Top UN envoy speaks out against death penalty following Afghan executions

8 October 2007 – The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan today expressed concern at the recent execution of 15 prisoners in the capital, Kabul – the first time the death penalty has been used in three years.

“The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has been a staunch supporter of the moratorium on executions observed in Afghanistan in recent years,” said UNAMA chief Tom Koenigs, recalling that the UN had previously stated its concern over the use of the death penalty.

In a statement, he acknowledged the sovereign right of the Afghan people and their Government to decide how to carry out their own laws, but called for Afghanistan to “continue working towards attaining highest human rights standards and ensuring that due process of law and the rights of all citizens are respected.”

“It is my personal view that the death penalty should be abolished worldwide,” he added.

Also today, UNAMA reported that more than 353,000 Afghans have returned to their homes so far this year – nearly 348,000 of them from Pakistan and more than 5,000 from Iran – with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Over 16,000 Afghans returned to their home country from Pakistan and Iran last month, UNAMA’s Nazifullah Salarzai told reporters in Kabul, adding that the pace of returns is slowing down as winter approaches.

“We’re now seeing return numbers averaging 200 per day – down from a peak of over 12,000 assisted returns per day in April,” Mr. Salarzai stated.

While UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation operation from Iran will continue throughout the winter, its operation from Pakistan will take a “winter break” at the end of October and then resume next March.

Since 2002, some 5 million Afghan refugees have returned to their battle-scarred homeland, mostly from Pakistan and Iran, a majority aided by UNHCR. Most of the 3 million registered Afghans remaining in neighbouring countries have been abroad for more than two decades.

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