The group says it has seen draft provisions from "a working group led by the Justice Ministry" that include the stoning provision, and it seeks to enlist the help of lame-duck President Hamid Karzai to defeat the text.
The draft legislation sets the punishment for extramarital sex between unmarried individuals at 100 lashes. Sex outside marriage is punished by "[s]toning to death if the adulterer or adulteress is married," with the execution to take place "in public in a predetermined location," according to HRW.
Such a scenario is chillingly reminiscent of Afghanistan's hard-line Islamist Taliban regime in the mid- and late-1990s, when stonings were carried out in front of huge crowds at Kabul's Ghazi Stadium.
In its statement, issued on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, HRW urges the international donors of billions of dollars to Afghanistan to "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."
Karzai, whose final term ends after an election in April, is a relative liberal but has generally tread carefully when it comes to opposing or overriding Afghanistan's most conservative religious and cultural forces.
As the United States and its allies try to hand over greater security responsibilities to Kabul, women's rights are one of the major areas of concern. (The nature of the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan after 2014 is still up in the air, highlighted by the weekend confusion over a so-called Bilateral Security Agreement.)
Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, is quoted as saying that "[i]t is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment.... President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand."
HRW goes on to say:
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.
As if a fresh reminder were needed of Afghan hard-liners' appetite for stoning, two young people in a province north of Kabul were gunned down his weekend after fleeing a stoning sentence handed down by village elders for trying to elope.
Reuters offered details of the incident:
"While they were fleeing, suddenly their car crashed and locals arrested them. People wanted to stone them on the spot but some elders disagreed," the provincial head of women's affairs, Khadija Yaqeen, told Reuters on Monday.
"The next day they decided and shot both of them dead in public. Our findings show that the woman's father had ordered to shoot both man and woman."
The public execution was confirmed by the provincial police chief's spokesman, who said the killings were unlawful.
A member of the Afghan committee drafting the legislation to revive the practice of stoning, Rohullah Qarizada, defended the move, telling Reuters, "We are working on the draft of a Shari'a penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning." He added, "The judge asks each witness many questions, and if one answer differs from other witnesses then the court will reject the claim."
Qarizada is head of the Afghan Independent Bar Association.
The list of countries where the punishment is still invoked is surprisingly long. It includes places where such executions are enshrined in law and may be ordered by courts -- Indonesia (Aceh), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and northern Nigeria -- as well as areas where more makeshift proceedings have resulted in stoning sentences -- in Pakistan, Iraq, Mali, and Somalia, and indeed Afghanistan.
In Iran, stoning remains on the books although authorities claim it is no longer carried out as a result of a decade-old moratorium. That has not stopped the trickle of occasional, unconfirmed reports of executions by stoning in Iran, the latest just last month (when a foreign-based rights group claimed that the bodies of four women turned up in Tehran that appeared to have been stoned to death, one year after a similar report). What's worse, the powerful Guardians Council in April was said to have rebuffed a legislative effort to remove stoning from Iranian law.
Alarmingly, the list of countries that prescribe death by stoning is growing. Just last month, Brunei's sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, ordered that "amputation and death by stoning...be added to Brunei's penal code next year as the oil-rich and increasingly conservative Islamic kingdom applies the strictures of Sharia," according to "The Australian."
-- Andy Heil