Human rights group condemns Iraq’s lack of transparency in executions

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BNO NEWS) -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday condemned the Iraqi government for providing no details about more than two dozen people who have been executed this week alone, bringing the number of executions in the country so far this year to nearly 100.

A justice ministry spokesman said 21 prisoners were executed on Monday morning and five more were executed on Wednesday. The spokesman said those executed, which includes one Saudi citizen, one Syrian citizen, and three women, were all previously convicted on charges relating to terrorism.

But other details were not released, including the identities of those executed, the exact charges against them, and details about their trial. It is also unknown where the executions were carried out and which method was used, although executions in Iraq are normally carried out by hanging.

"There is no doubt that Iraq still has a serious terrorism problem, but it also has a huge problem with torture and unfair trials," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The lack of transparency around these convictions and executions, in a country where confessions that may have been coerced are often the only evidence against a person, makes it crucial for Iraq to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions."

The human rights group said it was told by two Justice Ministry officials, a guard in a prison run by the ministry, and an inmate currently in another facility that hundreds of inmates launched a hunger strike on Tuesday at the Taji and Rusafa prisons in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

According to the inmate, prisoners were told by guards last week that Iraqi authorities are planning to accelerate executions in anticipation of the passage of an amnesty law currently before parliament. But a statement released by Iraq's parliament on Thursday said members of a committee have met to discuss a mechanism to "slow down executions", and Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari denied reports that executions are being accelerated.

"The government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, the evidence supporting their conviction, and details of any impending executions," Stork said in a statement, which added that some 200 prisoners are still on death row.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed his concern about the mass executions in Iraq. "Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings in Iraq, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure," he said.

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt also voiced his concern earlier this week. "We accept that the security situation in Iraq remains difficult, but the UK continues to oppose the use of the death penalty as a matter of principle," he said. "We also believe that there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value; and we recall that any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable."

A series of mass executions also took place in Iraq earlier this year. Most notably, at least 34 people were executed on a single day in late January, making it the largest number of confirmed executions worldwide within a single day in years. Seventeen people were executed days later, followed by the mass execution of fourteen people in early February.

Responding to the mass execution in January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was shocked to hear the news. "Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day," she said at the time.

The United Nations believes at least 1,200 people have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004, including at least 291 death sentences in 2011, but the government is reluctant to release official figures. Iraq lists 48 crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed, including terrorism, kidnapping and murder but also non-fatal offenses such as damage to public property.

In January, Human Rights Watch warned that Iraq risks falling back towards authoritarian rule amid allegations that security forces have tortured detainees at a secret prison, cracked down on freedom of expression and attacked peaceful protesters as well as journalists. Executions were commonly used by the government of Saddam Hussein.

The opposition in Iraq has compared Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to a dictator as he has failed to appoint defense and interior ministers, giving him full control over those ministries since December 2010. al-Maliki has also failed to appoint a minister of National Security Affairs.

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