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UN expert calls for immediate halt to executions and surrounding secrecy in Iraq

GENEVA (27 July 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, on Friday raised alarm about the reported announcement by the Ministry of Interior that the Court of Cassation has upheld death sentences for up to 196 prisoners in Iraq, Anbar province, west of Baghdad. It is unclear whether any of these sentences have yet been ratified by the Iraqi Presidential Council.

“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,” Mr. Heyns said. “And this is in a single province of the country.”

Continuing a regrettable pattern of lack of transparency in the use of the death penalty in Iraq, the Government has failed to make publicly available information that shows this large number of executions would be in line with the requirements of international law. The UN 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.

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

The Special Rapporteur supported the appeal, made in January 2012, by the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty. In that statement, the High Commissioner 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.

Invoking the State’s duties of transparency and legal due process, the Special Rapporteur 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.

The Special Rapporteur will present his next report to the General Assembly on major issues relating to the imposition of the death penalty in October this year.


Christof Heyns, from South Africa, was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in August 2010. He is Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and Co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Iraq: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx

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