(Kabul) – A working group led by the Afghan Justice Ministry that is assisting in drafting a new penal code has proposed provisions on “moral crimes” that call for stoning to death as a punishment for adultery. The Afghan government should immediately reject a proposal to restore stoning. International donors, including those supporting the legal reform process, should send a clear message to President Hamid Karzai that inclusion of stoning in the new penal code would have an immediate adverse effect on funding for the government, Human Rights Watch said in a press release.
“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand.”
The draft provisions, seen by Human Rights Watch, provide that if a couple is found by a court to have engaged in sex outside a legal marriage, both the man and woman shall be sentenced to “[s]toning to death if the adulterer or adulteress is married.” The provisions state that the “implementation of stoning shall take place in public in a predetermined location.” If the “adulterer or adulteress is unmarried,” the sentence shall be “whipping 100 lashes.”
Stoning was used as a punishment for adultery during the Taliban government, in power from the mid-1990s to 2001. The fall of the Taliban government led to the establishment of a new government that quickly signed on to international human rights conventions and pledged to protect human rights in Afghanistan, especially women’s rights. The penal code currently in force in Afghanistan, which was passed in 1976, makes no provision for the use of stoning as a punishment. While there have been isolated reports of executions by stoning in Afghanistan since 2001, there is no indication that any instances were condoned by the government.
The penalty of death by stoning violates international human rights standards, including prohibitions on torture and cruel and inhuman punishment. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Afghanistan has ratified, allows countries that continue to impose the death penalty – a dwindling minority – to do so only for the most serious offenses, which precludes such a sentence for adultery. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.
The proposal to allow stoning comes while Afghanistan is negotiating an agreement with the United States to ensure continued US support for Afghanistan over the next 10 years. The Bilateral Security Agreement, which is expected to form the framework for this support, was the subject of last minute negotiations in November 2013. Review of the document by 2,500 prominent Afghans during a four-day Loya Jirga (gathering of elders) in Kabul led to a recommendation by the Loya Jirga participants that the agreement be signed by Karzai and forwarded to the National Assembly with the goal of finalizing the agreement by the end of 2013. The US government has repeatedly told Karzai that if the agreement is not signed by then, the US will not have sufficient time to plan for support to Afghanistan following the end-2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international combat forces.
Agreements providing support from other countries and institutions, including NATO, have largely been on hold pending resolution of the US-Afghan agreement. Afghanistan also stands to benefit from US$16 billion in development aid pledged at the July 2012 Tokyo Conference, linked to benchmarks that include protection of human rights. At a follow-up meeting to the Tokyo Conference, many donors expressed disappointment with the Afghan government’s failure to make progress toward many of the benchmarks, with Norway proposing cuts in aid as a result.
“Donors need to make clear that international support to Afghanistan’s government is not a blank check,” Adams said. “International aid should generously support health and education and other crucial needs, but donor money shouldn’t pay for backsliding to Taliban-era abuses.”