The top United Nations human rights official appealed directly to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani today not to execute two high-ranking colleagues of former president Saddam Hussein, who was hanged on Saturday.
“International law, as it currently stands, only allows the imposition of the death penalty as an exceptional measure within rigorous legal constraints,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said, referring to the scheduled hanging of two of Mr. Hussein’s co-defendants, Awad Hamad Al-Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim Al-Hassan.
“The concerns that I expressed just days ago with respect to the fairness and impartiality of Saddam Hussein’s trial apply also to these two defendants, she added in a statement. “I have therefore today directly appealed to the President of the Republic of Iraq to refrain from carrying out these sentences.”
Noting that the death sentences on the two were upheld together with that on Mr. Hussein, Ms. Arbour said that under Iraq’s international obligations, the country is bound to afford the two the opportunity to seek commutation or pardon of the sentences.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fully endorsed Ms. Arbour’s call for restraint, his spokesperson Michele Montas told the daily news briefing in New York.
“The Secretary-General is of course aware of the ongoing debate concerning a total ban of the death penalty,” she said.
“Until the matter is resolved, he respects the right of Member States to have their own positions on it. However, the Secretary-General strongly believes in the wisdom of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,’” she added.
On the eve of Mr. Hussein’s execution Ms. Arbour likewise appealed to Iraq to avoid precipitously in light of concerns over the fairness of his trial.
“The appeal judgment is a lengthy and complex decision that requires careful study,” she said in a statement on Friday. “There were a number of concerns as to the fairness of the original trial, and there needs to be assurance that these issues have been comprehensively addressed. I call therefore on the Iraqi authorities not to act precipitately in seeking to execute the sentence in these cases.”
She noted that international law proscribes the imposition of the death sentence after an unfair trial. “All sections of Iraqi society, as well as the wider international community, have an interest in ensuring that a death sentence provided for in Iraqi law is only imposed following a trial and appeal process that is, and is legitimately seen as, fair, credible and impartial. That is especially so in a case as exceptional as this one,” she added.
She pointed out that under international treaties that Iraq has signed, Mr. Hussein had the right to appeal to the appropriate authorities for consideration of commutation or pardon.