Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

GENEVA/BAGHDAD August 1, 2016 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday expressed serious concern at the creation of a committee tasked with making recommendations to accelerate implementation of death sentences in Iraq.

The committee, announced by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, has been mandated to identify procedural or legislative delays in implementation of death sentences passed by Iraq’s courts.

“The women, children and men of Iraq live under constant threat of bombing, killings, and other atrocities, particularly those perpetrated by the so-called ISIL. In such circumstances it becomes all too easy to permit such atrocities to stoke the fires of vengeance,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“But vengeance is not justice. It is imperative that those who have perpetrated such crimes are held accountable on the basis of facts, evidence and due process and in accordance with law. Given the weaknesses of the Iraqi justice system, and the current environment in Iraq, I am gravely concerned that innocent people have been and may continue to be convicted and executed, resulting in gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice.”

Monitoring by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq (OHCHR) has revealed a consistent failure to respect due process and fair trial standards, including a reliance on torture to extract confessions. UNAMI and OHCHR have also noted the lack of transparency, with the authorities failing to provide timely public information on executions. The implementation of sentences handed down by courts, including death sentences, is a matter of public interest. Executions, if implemented, should be carried out in a transparent manner with full public disclosure in conformity with due process obligations.

On 6 July, the Iraqi Minister of Justice announced that 45 death sentences have been carried out since the beginning of 2016, that three more executions were forthcoming, and that amendments to the legal framework to accelerate the implementation of death sentences would be put to the Iraqi Parliament. On 23 July, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the committee. An estimated 1,200 individuals are on death row in Iraq, including possibly hundreds who have exhausted appeals processes and have received the final decree of the President. The Government of Iraq has not publicly confirmed these figures and usually only announces that executions have taken place long after the event.

“Fast-tracking executions will only accelerate injustice,” Zeid said. “The Iraqi people deserve justice. I strongly urge the Government not to take any actions that may further weaken the administration of justice and diminish the rights of those subject to criminal legal procedures.”

The High Commissioner reiterated his call on the Government of Iraq to end the use of the death penalty in compliance with United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2009), 65/205 (2010) and 67/176 (2012) by establishing an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and “to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed”