Human Rights Group Asks Iraq to End Excessive Executions

A human rights group has expressed outrage over the recent fast pace executions in Iraq and has called for Iraqi authorities to put an end to the unjust practice.

"The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Thursday. "The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system."

The group also noted that Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners since the beginning of 2012, 51 of those executions have occurred in January and 14 so far this month, CNN reported.

"The government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions," the group said in its statement, adding that they were especially concerned about Iraqi courts using coerced confessions as evidence.

Following reports late last month that 34 people, including two women, had been executed in Iraq on Jan. 19 following their criminal convictions, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the executions "terrifying" and doubted if any of the guilty parties were granted due process.

"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," Pillay told CNN.

"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offenses for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure."

Pillay added that the Iraqi government should institute a suspension on the death penalty. But the complaints from the U.N. and Human Rights Watch may be falling on deaf ears.

Justice Minister Hassan al-Shummari responded to the U.N.'s critique earlier this month in a statement, defending the speedy executions.

"The implementation of fair punishment against terrorists and murderers comes in accord with the law of the state," al-Shummari said.

"Questioning the credibility of the Iraqi judiciary system by the U.N. High Commissioner is (a) strange thing and the High Commissioner should also (be) aware of the size of the challenges that Iraq is facing by terrorist groups who had committed heinous crimes and mass executions against innocent people," al-Shummari said in a statement posted to the ministry's website.

Since 2004, over 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to the death penalty in Iraq, although the number of those executed is unknown, Pillay told CNN. The severe penalty can be given for approximately four dozen crimes, in some cases even public property damage, she added.

"Many defendants are unable to pursue a meaningful defense or to challenge evidence against them, and lengthy pretrial detention without judicial review is common," Human Rights Watch said in their statement.

The group maintains that it opposes the death penalty "because of its inhumane nature and its finality."

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