Top United Nations officials are today calling on Government of Iraq to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty after a new UN report found an alarming rise in executions carried out by the country since capital punishment was restored in 2005.
Equally troubling, warn the officials, is that the report details how executions in Iraq are often carried out in batches on one occasion last year, up to 34 individuals were executed in a single day and that overall, many convictions are based on questionable evidence and systemic failures in the administration of justice.
Published jointly today by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report document that the number of executions carried out in Iraq rose substantially between 2005 and 2009.
Alarmed by the scale and extent of the imposition of death sentences in Iraq, and deeply troubled by the weaknesses in the criminal justice system, UNAMI chief Nickolay Mladenov Mladenov, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein, jointly called on the Iraqi Government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards its abolition, in line with UN General Assembly resolutions.
In 2009, 124 people were executed. Despite a drop in the implementation rate in 2010, the number of executions significantly increased between 2011 and 2013, culminating in the hanging of 177 individuals in 2013. Between 1 January and 30 September 2014 at least 60 people have been executed.
A press release on the report notes that, as of August 2014, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, some 1,724 prisoners are awaiting execution. This number includes those sentenced to death at first instance, those on appeal, and those awaiting implementation of their sentences.
UNAMI and OHCHR have repeatedly voiced concerns about observed weaknesses of the Iraqi justice system, the report states. Criminal investigations and judicial proceedings in death penalty cases frequently fail to adhere to international and constitutional guarantees of due process and fair trial standards.
The report goes on to note that in over half of the trials involving the death penalty monitored by UNAMI, judges systematically ignored claims by defendants that they were subjected to torture to induce confessions, and in the remainder of cases they took little or no action.
Moreover, the UN found that in nearly all cases, judges proceeded to convict defendants and sentence them to death based solely, or substantially, on the weight of disputed confession evidence or the testimony of secret informants. Most defendants appeared in court unrepresented, and where the court appointed an attorney, no time was granted to the defendant to prepare adequately a defence.
The use of the death penalty in such circumstances carries the risk of grievous and irreversible miscarriages of justice since innocent people may face execution for crimes they did not commit. Far from providing justice to the victims of acts of violence and terrorism and their families, miscarriages of justice merely compound the effects of the crime the report states.
The large numbers of people who are sentenced to death in Iraq is alarming, especially since many of these convictions are based on questionable evidence and systemic failures in the administration of justice, said Mr. Mladenov, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq.
For his part, High Commissioner Zeid urged the new Iraqi Government to make a commitment to address the serious shortcomings in the criminal justice system in the country.
The new Government in Iraq is facing many serious security challenges, and it is more urgent than ever that the rule of law is reinforced and firmly entrenched in the country, Mr. Zeid said.
Given the weaknesses of the criminal justice system in Iraq, executing individuals whose guilt may be questionable merely compounds the sense of injustice and alienation among certain sectors of the population, which in turn serves as one of the contributing factors that is exploited by extremists to fuel the violence. he added.
Among its conclusions, the report stressed that the Government of Iraq urgently needs to develop and implement policies that address the conditions conducive to armed violence and terrorism, but which reinforce the rule of law and that promote the respect and protection of human rights.
These should include re-engaging affected communities in policies and decision-making related to their protection, ensuring actual protection by impartial State security forces from insurgent and terrorist activities, committing more resources to enhancing the forensic and investigatory capacities of police and security force members to investigate crimes, and reform of the criminal justice system.