Halt Executions, Abolish Death Penalty
February 9, 2012
The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will. The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and abolish the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners, 51 of them in January, and 14 more on February 8, for various offenses.

“The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will,”said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system.”

Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that Iraqi courts admit as evidence confessions obtained under coercion. The government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions, Human Rights Watch said.

A Justice Ministry official confirmed to Human Rights Watch on February 8 that authorities had executed 14 prisoners earlier in the day. “You should expect more executions in the coming days and weeks,” the official added.

According to the United Nations, more than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004. The number of prisoners executed during that period has not been revealed publicly. Iraqi law authorizes the death penalty for close to 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also including such offenses as damage to public property.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its inhumane nature and its finality. International human rights law requires that, where it has not been abolished, the death penalty be imposed only in cases for the most serious crimes in which the judicial system has scrupulously complied with fair trial standards, including the rights of the defendant to competent defense counsel, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and not to be compelled to confess guilt.

Criminal trials in Iraq often violate these minimum guarantees, Human Rights Watch said. Many defendants are unable to pursue a meaningful defense or to challenge evidence against them, and lengthy pretrial detention without judicial review is common.