19 April 2013
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday condemned the execution of 21 individuals in Iraq earlier in the week, which brought the total to 33 in the past month. She said she was appalled by reports that the Ministry of Justice has announced that a further 150 people may be executed in the coming days.
She stressed that the justice system in the country was “too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time.”
“Executing people in batches like this is obscene,” Ms. Pillay said. “It is like processing animals in a slaughterhouse. The criminal justice system in Iraq is still not functioning adequately, with numerous convictions based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards. The application of the death penalty in these circumstances is unconscionable, as any miscarriage of justice as a result of capital punishment cannot be undone.”
A total of 1,400 people are believed to be currently on death row in Iraq, and 129 people were executed in 2012 alone.
The Government of Iraq maintains that it only executes individuals who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes against civilians, and have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005.
The High Commissioner said she is concerned at the broad scope and wide application of article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which envisages the death penalty for a wide range of terrorism-related acts, not all of which can be considered to meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” allowing for the imposition of the death penalty under international law.
Ms. Pillay said she is also deeply concerned at Iraq’s lack of compliance with its international human rights obligations in relation to the imposition of the death penalty, in particular under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq has been a State Party for more than 40 years.
The High Commissioner emphasized the need for transparency and stringent respect of due process. She called on the Government “to halt executions, conduct a credible and independent review of all death row cases and disclose information on the number and identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings brought against them, and the outcome of the review of their cases.”
The High Commissioner also expressed concern at the apparent inability of prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges to exercise the right to seek pardon or commutation of their sentences, as prescribed in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and questioned why the presidential authority to pardon or commute death sentences (granted by article 286 of the Criminal Procedure Code) is hardly ever exercised.
Ms. Pillay said she was pleased to note that one part of Iraq – the Kurdistan Region – is already upholding an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, and urged the central Government to follow suit and heed the repeated calls by the international community to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to the abolition of the death penalty in accordance with repeated United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.* She pointed out that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium.
“I am the first to argue there must never be impunity for serious crimes. But at least if someone is jailed for life, and it is subsequently discovered there was a miscarriage of justice, he or she can be released and compensated,” Ms. Pillay said.
*See General Assembly resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2009), 65/205 (2010) and 67/176 (2012).
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