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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Iraq: Alarming rise in use of death penalty – UN report

Iraq death penalty use 'alarming'

20 October 2014

GENEVA/BAGHDAD(19 October 2014) - – A report published Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documents the alarming rise in executions carried out by Iraq since the restoration of the death penalty in 2005.

The report documents that the number of executions carried out in Iraq rose substantially between 2005 and 2009. 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. Executions are often carried out in batches in Iraq – on one occasion in 2013, up to 34 individuals were executed in a single day.

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.”

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. In nearly all cases, judges proceeded to convict the 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 by potentially claiming the life of another innocent person and by undermining any real justice that the victims and families might have received.” the report states.

Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov expressed deep concern about the scale and extent of the use of the death penalty in Iraq.

“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,” Mladenov said. “I call upon the Government of Iraq to reconsider its position on the imposition of the death penalty.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the new Government in Iraq 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,” 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. I call on the new Government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.”

Mladenov and Zeid jointly called on the Government of Iraq 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 Iraq, death sentences are applicable to a range of offences, including acts of terrorism, crimes against the “internal security of the State”, crimes affecting the “external security of the State”, kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking where death results, prostitution, and “aggravated” murder.

Under international law the death penalty can only be applied for the most serious crimes and after the most stringent fair trial safeguards. “Most serious crimes” has been consistently interpreted by human rights mechanisms as murder and other forms of intentional killing. However, this provision should not be invoked to delay or prevent abolition of the death penalty, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Since 2007, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions calling on States that retain the death penalty to “establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty”. The most recent of these resolutions was adopted in 2012.


The full report is available at:

For more information, please contact:
In Geneva: Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9769 / [email protected] ) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / [email protected] )
In Baghdad: Eliana Nabaa, UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) (+964 7901 931 281 / [email protected]