Qisas and Sharia Punishments under the Taliban: UNAMA Calls for Abolishing Corporal Punishments in Afghanistan

In a recent report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) criticized the Taliban for corporal punishment suspects. The report highlights that severe punishments, such as stoning, execution, and public flogging, violate the human dignity of suspects. UNAMA further notes that the Taliban’s punishments generally do not follow recognized legal procedures and Islamic principles. The report stresses that compulsory executions are prohibited under international human rights law and that issuing a death sentence without respecting the right to a fair trial constitutes extrajudicial killing. UNAMA has called for an immediate halt to the Taliban’s execution punishments. In response, the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry defended their actions, stating that their punishments adhere to Islamic laws and guidelines and are widely followed by Afghan citizens.

On Monday, May 8, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a detailed report documenting corporal punishments and executions carried out by the Taliban. The report covers punitive measures taken by individuals affiliated with the Taliban from August 2021 to May 2023. According to the report, the Taliban publicly flogged 274 men, 58 women, and two boys over the past six months.

The UNAMA report records a single public execution from August 2021 to May 2023. According to the report, a man who had been convicted of murder in 2017 and sentenced to death was executed on December 7, in the presence of senior Taliban officials.

Additionally, UNAMA documented another execution ordered by non-judicial Taliban officials. On February 14, 2023, a man and a woman were sentenced to death on charges of adultery in the Nusay district of Badakhshan province. The governor of Nusay district issued the order, not a Taliban court.

The report also notes that in March 2022, the Taliban planned to execute four individuals accused of killing an eight-member vaccination team, but did not carry out the execution for various reasons. UNAMA emphasizes that compulsory implementation of death sentences is prohibited under international human rights law, and issuing a death sentence without a fair trial is considered an “arbitrary deprivation of life” under international law.

UNAMA’s Chief of Human Rights, Fiona Frazer, stated that “corporal punishments that violate the United Nations Convention against Torture must be stopped.” She emphasizes that the United Nations strongly opposes the corporal punishment of individuals and urges governing authorities to immediately suspend executions.

The Taliban implements Sharia punishments mostly in public, often in sports stadiums with large crowds, following the orders of the group’s leader. UNAMA’s report warns that the Taliban have carried out a range of corporal punishments, including lashing, stoning, various forms of beating, forcing suspects to stand in cold water, and shaving their hair.

The report documents several instances where non-judicial authorities within the Taliban, including governors, officials from the Department of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, police, and Taliban intelligence, carried out punishment events. These entities have a “quasi-judicial” function, and the report notes that some of them issued punishment sentences, such as Taliban governors. UNAMA reports that the group continued to carry out physical punishments and executions in areas under its control during the 20-year armed conflict in Afghanistan that ended in August 2021.

The Taliban have executed at least 182 cases of punishment in their parallel judicial system, as documented by UNAMA, despite the existence of the government’s judicial system from 2010 to 2021. A “Taliban judge or commission” issued these punishments based on religious or traditional interpretations of custom or law. The report concludes that “the legal system in Afghanistan currently fails to ensure minimum guarantees of fair trial and related safeguards.” These punishments are carried out publicly in places such as sports stadiums and crowded intersections.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry has responded to UNAMA’s report, stating that Afghanistan’s laws are based on Islamic principles and guidelines, which are followed by most citizens of the country. According to the statement, “If there is a conflict between international human rights laws and Islamic laws, the government is obligated to follow Islamic laws.”

Last week, the Taliban’s Supreme Court announced its commitment to the implementation of Qisas and the enforcement of Sharia Law. According to the court, 175 verdicts of Qisas, 37 stoning sentences, and four cases of execution by putting the criminal under a wall have been issued by the group’s courts. In a video clip on Thursday, May 4, Abdul Malik Haqqani, deputy head of the Taliban’s Supreme Court, stated that “the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban has recommended that all courts take decisions on Qisas and Sharia Punishment more carefully, under the principles of Sharia, and present them to the leadership for approval.”

The Deputy head of the Taliban Supreme Court reported that they have issued 103 sentences of Sharia punishment, 79 sentences of blood money, and 1,562 sentences of corporal punishment. Some of these sentences have been executed, and others are ready to be carried out.

Human rights activists, particularly those fighting for the rights of sexual and gender minorities, have expressed concern about these statements made by the Taliban. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has responded to recent Taliban court decisions that involve punishment by Qisas, stoning, demolition of a wall on an individual, and the implementation of Sharia law on defendants, describing them as “shocking, collective punishment, and terrifying.”

On Saturday, May 6, the Commission announced that the Taliban’s actions are in violation of national and international laws and have disregarded all human values. It has urged international legal institutions to interpret national and international laws regarding the Taliban’s decisions and actions and to respond strongly.

Despite almost two years passing since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, no country has granted official recognition to the group. The Taliban’s recent extremist actions, including the implementation of harsh punishments, make it challenging for the international community to engage with them. The global community has stressed the significance of human rights, particularly women’s and girls’ rights, and the establishment of an inclusive government, as fundamental prerequisites for any potential interaction and recognition of the Taliban in the future. However, the Taliban has maintained that they uphold human rights, women’s rights, and minority rights according to the Islamic system’s principles.