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Press briefing notes on Iraq executions, Iraq: Tuz Khurmatu clashes and El Salvador

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 15 December 2017

(1) Iraq executions

We are deeply shocked and appalled at the mass execution on Thursday of 38 men at a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, Iraq, which once again raises huge concerns about the use of the death penalty in the country. These 38 prisoners had been convicted for terrorism-related crimes.

Given the flaws of the Iraqi justice system, it appears extremely doubtful that strict due process and fair trial guarantees were followed in these 38 cases. This raises the prospect of irreversible miscarriages of justice and violations of the right to life.

So far this year, we have learned of 106 executions in Iraq, including the mass hanging of 42 prisoners in a single day in September.

We once again urge the Iraqi authorities to halt all executions, establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and carry out an urgent and comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.

(2) Iraq: Tuz Khurmatu clashes

We are seriously concerned about the situation in the city of Tuz Khurmatu, in Salah al-Din Governorate in Iraq, where on 9 and 12 December residential areas were reportedly shelled, causing casualties among civilians.  It is not clear who is carrying out the shelling which is reported to be coming from the mountains overlooking the area. Iraqi forces are still working to discover the exact locations from which the shelling has come and the identity of those responsible.

Tensions have been increasing in Tuz Khurmatu following September’s independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and in disputed areas, which include Tuz Khurmatu. In recent weeks, clashes have broken out between Kurdish Security Forces – also known as the Peshmerga - and Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units or PMUs. This fighting has to date resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths in each group.

UN human rights officers visited the area on 7 December and again on 14 December to investigate reports of the burning of homes and looting of businesses. They spoke to residents of Tuz Khurmatu in Kirkuk and Erbil who had fled the violence and also saw for themselves in Tuz Khurmatu some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged. This follows reports that, on 16 and 17 October, a similar number of houses were looted and burned by Turkmen PMUs and civilians, and that up to 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials were destroyed by explosives in the city. Thousands of residents, mainly of Kurdish origin left for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, apparently fearing repercussions, and to date many have not returned.

Iraqi Government forces are in control of Tuz Khurmatu, supported by Popular Mobilization units. The city’s population is a mix of Turkoman, Kurd and Arab communities and there is a serious risk that given the ethnic and religious fault lines in the area, that violence could escalate and spread.

We urge the end of all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population. We also call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice.

(3) El Salvador

On Wednesday, the Second Appeal Court of San Salvador upheld a 30-year prison sentence against a woman, Teodora Vasquez, for aggravated homicide – a charge commonly used to prosecute women suspected of deliberately terminating their pregnancy.

Teodora was one of four women the High Commissioner met in the Ilopango women’s rehabilitation centre during his recent mission to El Salvador. They all told us that they had suffered miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies. Teodora said she was in the ninth month of her pregnancy when she suffered intense pain, and called the emergency services before passing out. She awoke to find her baby had been stillborn. She was accused of deliberately ending her pregnancy and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in January 2008.

El Salvador has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world, completely prohibiting access to abortion regardless of the circumstances including if a woman’s life is at risk or if she has suffered sexual violence. Article 133 of the country’s Penal Code stipulates prison terms of two to eight years for those who procure or carry out abortions. And similar to Teodora, at least 41 other women have been convicted of attempted or aggravated homicide after suffering miscarriages or other complications under the Penal Code since 1988.

It is important to highlight here, as the High Commissioner has done, that El Salvador’s Penal Code disproportionately affects women living in poverty, such as Teodora. We have not seen women from wealthier backgrounds jailed under similar circumstances in El Salvador.

We reiterate the call Zeid made during his official visit for El Salvador to place a moratorium on the application of Article 133, and review all cases where women have been detained for abortion-related offences. If it is found that these cases were not compliant with international standards, the women should be immediately released.

We also call on El Salvador to comply with its international human rights obligations and lift the absolute prohibition on abortion as reiterated by UN human rights mechanisms.