(Baghdad) – Iraqi authorities should immediately stay the execution of a Yemeni national who was 16 at the time of his alleged offense. The execution of Saleh Moussa Ahmed al-Baidany would be Iraq’s first documented execution since 1987 of someone who was a child at the time of their alleged offense, Human Rights Watch said. Al-Baidany was 16 years old when he was taken into custody by US armed forces in Iraq in 2009, according to his father and to the birth certificate provided by his family.
A Yemeni lawyer working on al-Baidany’s case told Human Rights Watch that on December 7, 2012, Iraqi authorities transferred al-Baidany to a prison facility in Camp Justice, also known as al-Sha’ba al-Khamsa, where death row inmates are held and executions carried out. Iraqi authorities could execute al-Baidany at any time, despite serious doubts as to whether he received a fair trial, and allegations that he was tortured in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
“Iraq should not make the irreversible mistake of executing a juvenile offender for the first time in 25 years,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iraqi authorities should immediately stay al-Baidany’s execution, inform his family of his whereabouts, and disclose details about the case against him.”
In a statement on December 8, the Seyaj Organization for Child Protection, a Yemeni-based human rights organization, called on Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to intervene with Iraqi authorities to stop the execution. Seyaj told Human Rights Watch that they understand Iraqi authorities intend to execute al-Baidany in the early hours of December 10.
Al-Baidany’s father, Musa al-Baidany, told Human Rights Watch that US forces initially apprehended his son on August 21, 2009, on the Iraqi-Syrian border. His father had regular telephone contact with his son until 25 days ago. In a letter to Seyaj, Musa al-Baidany said his son was initially detained at Abu Ghraib prison, then transferred to a prison in Central Baghdad where he said he was tortured and forced to sign a confession while blindfolded. This description is consistent with cases Human Rights Watch has documented in the past two years in which detainees stated they were forced to sign confessions while blindfolded.
Al-Baidany was then transferred between al-Tajji, Abu Ghraib, Baghdad Central, Rusafa, Qalaa Soussa, and Nasireyya prisons, the letter states. Al-Baidany’s family knew nothing of their son’s whereabouts until the International Committee of the Red Cross interviewed him in March 2011, and authorities have provided them with no information on their son’s case since.
Both al-Baidany’s father and Hamid al-Houjaili, the Yemeni lawyer working on the case, told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi authorities failed to provide them with information about his current location, the charges against him, or the details of his trial, including whether al-Baidany had access to a lawyer. Al-Baidany told his father he had no lawyer at the time of his trial.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Iraq in 1971 and 1994 respectively, prohibit the death penalty for persons under 18 at the time of the offense.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body of experts that monitors state compliance with the CRC, has stated that “in the case of conflict or inconclusive evidence, the child shall have the right to the rule of the benefit of the doubt.” Because al-Baidany has a birth certificate indicating he was under 18 at the time of his arrest, his execution should immediately be stayed and a new trial set to allow for a sentence appropriate for a juvenile offender, Human Rights Watch said.
The Iraqi Ministry of Justice did not respond to queries from Human Rights Watch on December 9 seeking clarification on the charges against al-Baidany, his current whereabouts, and whether Yemeni officials have been granted the opportunity to see him in prison.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by Iraq in 1963, consular officers or their authorized representatives “shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody, or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation.” Human Rights Watch has been unable to verify whether Iraqi authorities granted a request from the Yemeni Embassy in Iraq to allow a lawyer from Yemen to assist in al-Baidany’s case.
International human rights law requires that where the death penalty has not been abolished, it should be imposed only for the most serious crimes and after scrupulous adherence to international fair trial standards. Trials in Iraq often violate these minimum guarantees, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty. This form of punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.