Global perspective Human stories

UN expert urges halt to executions and surrounding secrecy in Iraq

Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns.
Jean-Marc Ferré
Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns.

UN expert urges halt to executions and surrounding secrecy in Iraq

An independent United Nations human rights expert today voiced alarm about reports that Iraqi authorities have upheld death sentences for up to 196 prisoners – in one province alone – and called on the Government to halt its secrecy over executions.

“It is extremely disturbing that up to 196 individuals may be at imminent risk of execution, with a serious lack of public information on the cases,” said the Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns. “And this is in a single province of the country.”

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior has reportedly announced that the Court of Cassation has upheld the death sentences in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It added that it is unclear whether any of these sentences have yet been ratified by the Iraqi Presidential Council.

“The lives of too many individuals are at stake,” Mr. Heyns said, urging the Iraqi Government to immediately halt executions and review all death row cases.

The expert recalled that the death penalty may only be imposed – in countries that still have this form of punishment – if a strict set of substantive and procedural requirements are met.

He supported the appeal, made in January 2012, by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, for the establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty.

In that statement, Ms. Pillay deplored that 34 individuals had been executed in Iraq within one day. Reports indicate that 70 people have been executed in the country thus far in 2012. “Overall, an alarming number of death sentences have been carried out in Iraq over the past few years,” stated the news release.

Stressing the duty of the State to ensure transparency and legal due process, Mr. Heyns called on the Government to disclose information on the number of executions carried out, the identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings against them, and the outcome of the review of their cases.

“Maintaining secrecy over executions undermines public scrutiny and may lead the international community to conclude that these are being imposed in violation of international law,” he said.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.