Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged the Afghan government to institute a moratorium on further executions [press release] after eight men were hanged, marking an end of Afghanistan's four-year virtual moratorium on the death penalty. Human rights advocacy groups, such as HRW, see this mass execution as a step backward for the country's weak legal system and as a revelation on the progress that has yet to be made. Under Afghan law, when a court delivers a death sentence, the president must then sign a death warrant for the execution to occur. According to officials, President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile] signed off [Reuters report] on each of the eight executions. Judicially sanctioned executions have been rare since the Taliban fell, and the country has experienced unofficial death penalty moratoriums from 2001 to 2004, and from 2008 until recently. Until Tuesday's hangings, only two people had been executed in the last four years.
The Afghan government's human rights record has been under scrutiny in the past. In March HRW called on the Afghan government to release women and girls imprisoned [JURIST report] for "moral crimes," many of which involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence and "zina," which is sex outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In December 2011 HRW said that the Afghan government had failed to ensure and protect human rights [JURIST report] since the Taliban government ended 10 years ago. The report alleged that in the last 10 years, the Afghanistan justice system had "remain[ed] weak" and that human rights abuses were rampant in the alternative traditional justice system, where civilians are often forced to resolve disputes in Taliban courts. In July 2010 the advocacy group criticized Karzai's integration and reconciliation efforts [JURIST report] to end the conflict with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, claiming that women's rights were bypassed in order to reach an expedient solution. Among HRW's criticisms was the president's decision to sign the Shia Personal Status Law [JURIST report], which legalized rape within marriage, and his pardon of two convicted rapists.