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Time to abolish the death penalty in Afghanistan!

EU Special Representative, Ambassador Franz-Michael Mellbin (2014)

The new Afghan Government has announced an impressive series of positive economic, judicial and security sector reforms. These are courageous reforms that will reshape Afghanistan and move the nation forward.

Now the time has come for the Government to be equally committed towards reform and improvements within the Human Rights sector. Establishing a moratorium, immediately suspending the execution of death sentences, will send a strong signal to the world that the Afghan President and Government are truly committed to setting new standards for Human Rights in Afghanistan.

On 10 October is the European & World Day against the Death Penalty. On this day it is worthwhile noticing that 98 countries have fully abolished capital punishment. A further 35 countries, although not having abolished the death penalty, are not putting it into practice. Today, more than two-thirds of all countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Afghanistan should join their ranks.

For parliamentarians, the decision to end capital punishment has been difficult and in most cases unpopular, frequently going against a strong public opinion. In most countries where the death penalty still exists public opinion supports the death penalty; mostly because capital punishment is closely linked to people’s desire to be free from serious crimes.

Public support in favour of the death penalty – as in Afghanistan – does not necessarily mean that taking away the life of a human being by the state is right. Furthermore, there is no historical evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrence of crime.

On several occasions since 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations has resolved that “there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty”. Other effective ways to prevent crime exist and can be used.

It has been historically recognised that when a country abolishes the death penalty, public opinion eventually turns in support of the political decision to end the right of the state to kill its own citizens.

Capital punishment can never be revoked. No matter how developed a justice system is, it will always remain exposed to human failure. The risk of executing an innocent man exists in any justice system. In a weak juridical system, such as the Afghan, that risk is particularly high. There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable.

The new Government has promised to safeguard and promote Human Rights values and to secure a suitable and credible place for Afghanistan on a regional and world level. The death penalty is incompatible with Human Rights and human dignity. The death penalty violates the right to life; the most basic of all Human Rights. It also violates universally recognised Human Rights protecting people from subjection to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty represents one of the main objectives of our Human Rights Policy – not only in Afghanistan, but worldwide.

Abolishment of the death penalty in Afghanistan would serve as a clear and powerful signal to the world that the new Government has the will and determination to join the large group of countries around the world, which have abolished capital punishment. The European Union – as long term partner to Afghanistan and a friend of the Afghan people – calls on the Government of Afghanistan to establish a moratorium as a first and necessary step towards its abolition.

By the European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Franz-Michael Mellbin

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