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July 27, 2005

His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroodi
Justice Ministry Bldg.
Pazdah-Khordad (Ark) Sq.
Tehran, Iran

By fax: 98 21 222 90 151

Your Excellency:

We write to express our grave concern over the July 19 public hanging in Mashhad of two people for crimes they were found to have committed while at least one of them was under the age of eighteen. The continued practice of executing juvenile offenders—as well as the imposition of sentences of flogging, which constitutes torture—places Iran in violation of its international legal obligations. We urge you to bring an end to these practices and to support legislation barring the execution of sentences of death on people for crimes committed before age eighteen.

Two young men, Mahmoud A. and Ayaz M., were hanged in public in Mashhad on July 19, 2005. Press reports indicate that they were executed for sexually assaulting a thirteen-year-old boy fourteen months earlier. One of the accused was seventeen years old at the time of the alleged crime; the other was apparently seventeen or eighteen. Each victim also received 228 lashes for theft, disturbing public order, and consuming alcohol.

The practice of executing people for crimes they committed while juveniles remains common in Iran. In 2004, Iran executed four people for such crimes, and there are currently at least thirty juveniles facing sentences of death. Human Rights Watch has confirmed the names and ages at the time of offense of five juvenile offenders under sentence of death in Iran: Milad Bakhtiari, 17 years old; Hussein Haghi, 16 years old; Hussein Taranj, 17 years old; Farshad Saeedi, 17 years old; Saeed Khorrami, 16 years old.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel and inhumane nature. Human rights principles and protections are founded upon respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. These principles cannot be reconciled with the death penalty, a form of punishment that is unique in its barbarity and finality. The intrinsic fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due process of law is respected, innocent persons may be executed.

In particular, in imposing sentences of death on people for crimes committed before the age of eighteen, Iran flouts clear and specific human rights obligations. Article 6.5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) bars the imposition of the death penalty for such offenses. Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child contains the same prohibition and also bars the imposition of life sentences without parole for juvenile offenses. These provisions reflect the reality that children are different from adults. They lack the experience, judgement, maturity, and restraint of an adult.

Iran is a party to both treaties—it ratified the ICCPR without reservation and the Convention on the Rights of the Child subject to a general reservation of " the right not to apply any provisions or articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic Laws and the international legislation in effect."

Both treaties forbid the imposition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that children have the right to protection from all forms of violence. It is not clear that Iran interprets its reservation to apply to these provisions, but to the extent that it does, the reservation is invalid. A state may not formulate a reservation that is incompatible with the object and purpose of a treaty. As the Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly emphasized, both the juvenile death penalty and corporal punishment in the penal system are incompatible with the convention. Accordingly, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its January 2005 review of Iran's compliance with the treaty, urged the government

    to take the necessary steps to immediately suspend the execution of all death penalties imposed on persons for having committed a crime before the age of 18, to take the appropriate legal measures to convert them to penalties in conformity with the provisions of the Convention and to abolish the death penalty as a sentence imposed on persons for having committed crimes before the age of 18, as required by article 37 of the Convention.

It has also called upon Iran "to take all the necessary measures to ensure that persons who committed crimes while under 18 are not subjected to any form of corporal punishment and to immediately suspend the imposition and the execution of sentences of amputation, flogging, stoning and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment ."

Iran 's Majlis has for four years considered legislation which would amend Article 1210 of the civil code to prohibit executions for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. We urge you to support such legislation and to end all forms of torture, including amputation, flogging, and stoning, imposed as criminal penalties.


Hadi Ghaemi, Iran Researcher
Middle East and North Africa Division

Michael Bochenek, Counsel
Children’s Rights Division

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