Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

Iraq: Wave of mass executions must stop, trials are unfair - UN experts

20 November 2020

GENEVA (20 November 2020) – UN human rights experts* expressed alarm at reports that some 50 prisoners convicted of terrorism-related crimes in Iraq face execution on Monday, and urged the Government to immediately halt all mass executions saying they had serious concerns about the conduct of the trials and the extraction of confessions under torture.

Since October 2020, the Iraqi authorities have reportedly initiated a wave of executions of prisoners on death row at the Nasiriyah central prison (also known as al-Hoot prison). Twenty-one were executed during October, followed by another 21 on 16 November alone, in what seems to be part of a larger plan to execute all prisoners on death row. 

“We strongly urge the Iraqi Government to respect its international legal obligations and to immediately halt further plans to execute prisoners,” the experts said. 

A reported 4,000 prisoners, most of them charged with terrorism offences, are on death row in Iraq. The UN experts said hundreds of deaths were now imminent after their execution orders had been signed-off.

“Trials under the Anti-Terrorism Law have been marked with alarming irregularities,” the UN experts said. “Defendants have frequently been denied the most basic right to an adequate defence and their allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogations have not been investigated.”

The Iraqi Anti-Terrorism Law no.13 of 2005 raises serious human rights concerns, including the vague and overly broad definition of terrorism. Under the law, an individual can face trial on terrorism charges and can be sentenced to death for a non-violent crime committed without intent to terrorize the population. Furthermore, when rendering punishment, no distinction is made between different levels of participation, involvement and responsibility in terrorist acts and no assessment is made based on the severity of the act.

“Any death sentence carried out following an unfair trial or on the basis of an ambiguous law, amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life,” the experts said. “When carried out on a widespread and systematic basis, arbitrary executions may well amount to crimes against humanity and may entail universal criminal responsibility for any official involved in such acts.”


* The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Yasmine Ashraf ([email protected]/+41 22 917 2059)

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

Concerned about the world we live in?
Then STAND UP for someone's rights today.
and visit the web page at