The scheduled executions set for tomorrow of five Afghans accused of armed robbery and gang rape is being criticized by the United Nations human rights chief, who today reiterated his calls for a stay to allow a judicial review and ensure that the right to a fair trial is upheld.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, today stressed that there was “no question this was an appalling crime, and we appreciate the fact that State authorities acted quickly to arrest individuals suspected of committing it.”
However, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein wrote on 29 September to President Ashraf Ghani requesting to stay the executions, which had been signed by Mr. Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
“The High Commissioner informed President Ghani, and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, that he has grave concerns that the legal process which led to these convictions failed to comply with national and international fair trial standards,” Mr. Colville said.
He added that OHCHR has credible allegations that the convicted men were ill-treated while in pre-trial detention, denied adequate legal representation, and during the legal proceedings, which lasted only two “short trial hearings,” the legal basis for the prosecution was unclear.
“The High Commissioner stated his firm view that the proceedings of these cases not only risk denying adequate justice to both the victims of this terrible crime and the accused, but will also undermine efforts to strengthen the rule of law and administration of justice in Afghanistan,” his spokesperson said.
The High Commissioner called on Mr. Ghani to refer the cases back to the courts “given the very serious due process concerns,” and also urged him to consider exercising his constitutional power to commute the death sentences to a suitable term of imprisonment.
In his letter, the High Commissioner highlighted that Afghanistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Deviations from the due process standards under article 14 of that treaty constitute a violation of the right to life.
In addition, subjecting detainees to ill-treatment and forcing them to make or sign a commission under duress violates both article 7 of the ICCPR prohibiting torture and inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment and article 14, paragraph 3 (g) prohibiting compulsion to testify against oneself or confess guilt.