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Iraq: Stop Executing Prisoners

12 Recently Hanged, UN Says 115 May Be Executed Soon

(New York) - Iraq should institute an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in the aftermath of a large number of executions on May 3, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

According to United Nations officials in Baghdad, the Iraqi government hanged 12 people in Baghdad on May 3 who had been convicted of criminal offenses.  The UN officials said they believed that another 115 prisoners could face execution in the near future.

"This is a major step backward for human rights in Iraq," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "In a country that has had so much violence, the government should focus on fixing its flawed justice system instead of executing people."

Human Rights Watch said it was particularly concerned that Iraq continues to admit into judicial proceedings confessions obtained under duress. The organization called on the Iraqi government to disclose all information regarding the identities and status of prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, the manner in which they were charged, tried, and sentenced, the prisons in which they are detained, and details of any impending executions.

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 where 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 to not be compelled to confess guilt.

Criminal trials in Iraq routinely violate these minimum guarantees. In a December 2008 report, Human Rights Watch documented that even the country's flagship Central Criminal Court has failed to meet basic international fair trial and due process standards. In monitoring court proceedings in Iraq, Human Rights Watch found that the majority of defendants had ineffectual legal counsel and were unable to pursue a meaningful defense or challenge evidence against them. Many were subjected to abuse in detention, typically with the aim of extracting confessions, and lengthy pretrial detention without judicial review was the rule.

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