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Human Rights Watch Letter on Juvenile Death Penalty in Iran

We write to express our grave concern over this week’s scheduled executions of two men for crimes they committed when under the age of 18. The continued practice of executing juvenile offenders places Iran in violation of its international legal obligations. We urge you to bring an end to this practice and to support legislation barring the execution of sentences of death on people for crimes committed before age 18.

September 22, 2006

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

Via Fax

Your Excellency:

We write to express our grave concern over this week’s scheduled executions of two men for crimes they committed when under the age of 18. The continued practice of executing juvenile offenders places Iran in violation of its international legal obligations. We urge you to bring an end to this practice and to support legislation barring the execution of sentences of death on people for crimes committed before age 18.

One of these men was Sina Paymard, who turned 18 two weeks ago. He received a death sentence from Branch 71 of Tehran’s Penal Court for a murder he committed on July 18, 2004, when he was 15 years old, and the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence. According to his lawyer, the courts did not properly consider evidence that he suffered from a mental disorder.

Mr. Paymard was due to be hanged on Wednesday morning, September 20. He is a talented ney player, and he asked to be able to play before his hanging. According to press reports, his performance greatly affected all those present, moving the victim’s family to pardon him and collect blood money in lieu of his execution. As you know, Iran’s Islamic Penal Code allows a murder victim’s family to have this option up to the moment before an execution is carried out.

The second man who was to be executed yesterday is Ali Alijan, now 19 years old. He was convicted and sentenced to death by Branch 71 of Tehran’s Penal Court for a murder he committed in 2004, and the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence. As with Mr. Paymard, Mr. Alijan was under the age of 18 at the time he committed the murder. He was also pardoned by the victim’s family just before his execution was to have taken place, provided that he pay blood money to the victim’s family.

The execution of a third man, Vahid (surname not known), was carried out on Wednesday when family members of the victim, murdered in 2004, did not agree to a pardon. One news account gave Vahid’s age at execution as 20, another as 21. It is not known if he was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

Despite these pardons, the practice of executing people for crimes they committed while juveniles remains common in Iran. Iran executed at least one other juvenile offender in 2006 and eight in 2005. There are currently about 30 juveniles facing sentences of death.

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, judgment, 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."

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, the juvenile death penalty is 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.

Iran’s Majlis has for five 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.

Sincerely,

Hadi Ghaemi, Iran Researcher
Middle East and North Africa Division

Michael Bochenek
Counsel, Children’s Rights Division

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