Iraq: New report condemns soaring execution rate

Fourth highest number of executions in the world as Iraq turns clock back

Amnesty International has condemned the soaring execution rate in Iraq as it published a new report today (20 April) showing that the country is now the world’s fourth highest user of the death penalty.

After the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority suspended the death penalty following the invasion of Iraq and toppling of President Saddam Hussain’s government in 2003, Amnesty International report reveals that Iraq’s subsequent reintroduction of the death penalty has led to a rapid acceleration in death sentences and executions.

The organisation’s 49-page report Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq, shows that since mid-2004 more than 270 people have been sentenced to death in Iraq, and at least 100 people executed. Last year alone at least 65 people were executed (including two Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights), making Iraq the fourth highest user of the penalty in the world behind only China, Iran and Pakistan. With an estimated 2.7 executions per million people, Iraq also has one of the world’s highest per capita execution rates.

At the time of its reimposition, the Iraqi authorities claimed the death penalty was a necessary deterrent given the country’s grave security situation. Amnesty International’s report challenges this “deterrence” claim, noting that the security situation has continued to decline even as the number of executions has multiplied rapidly.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The clock has been turned back in Iraq and we’ve seen a return to large numbers of people being condemned to death and hastily executed after unfair trials.

“The world witnessed the squalid spectacle of Saddam Hussain’s execution at the end of last year, but dozens of other people in Iraq have also been hanged after unfair trials.

“Instead of this Saddam-like thirst for vengeance and death, the Iraqi government should be doing its utmost to reinforce respect for life. It should start by imposing an immediate moratorium on all executions.”

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, points out there have been numerous instances in Iraq of defendants in capital cases making pre-trial “confessions”, including on television. Indeed government-backed programmes like Al-Iraqiyya TV’s “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice”, presented by a high-ranking officer from the elite police unit the Wolf Brigade, have specialised in this particular brand of “confessional” television.

Though defendants have frequently retracted confessions at a later date, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that they have proved highly prejudicial in subsequent trials. In addition, many defendants have alleged that “confessions” were actually extracted under torture, and indeed some of those appearing on television have apparently borne the marks of torture, including on their faces.

For instance on 28 December 2006 (two days before Saddam Hussain was executed), ‘Amar ‘Ubaid Kassar was sentenced to death by a court in the Babel governorate for affiliation to an armed group, itself a capital offence in Iraq. Though he was never accused of having caused any deaths, was convicted exclusively on the basis of two confessions and had unexplained scars on his body, ‘Amar ‘Ubaid Kassar was nevertheless condemned to death.

In another case, Shahab Ahmad Khalaf and ‘Abdullah Kelana were sentenced to death by a Baghdad court in 2005 for alleged leadership of a terrorist group. Shahab Ahmad Khalaf, who was detained by US and Iraq forces in 2005 and apparently denied access to a lawyer for the first seven months of his detention, has said that his televised “confession” (later retracted) was beaten out of him. Eventually represented by lawyers, these were however reportedly blocked in their attempts to disprove the case against Shahab Ahmad Khalaf and after a 45-minute trial both men were sentenced to death.

Amnesty International’s report also shows that, as in Saddam Hussain’s trial where the former president’s lawyers were severely intimidated and indeed three were murdered, capital charge defendants in Iraq often face serious difficulty in mounting defences. The organisation has seen hostile text messages accusing defence lawyers of “treason”, and threatening actions have included an arson attack on a lawyer’s Baghdad office.

Despite the soaring execution rate in Iraq, last month the country’s Human Rights Minister claimed Iraq was working toward abolition. Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi government to impose a moratorium on executions, to commute all pending death sentences and to take steps to permanently abolish the death penalty in line with an international trend toward global abolition.

In the meantime, the organisation is calling on both UK and US forces to refrain from handing over to the Iraqi authorities any detainees who have been sentenced to death and to seek written guarantees that no detainee subject to handover will face execution.

Amnesty International’s report on the death penalty in Iraq is part of the organisation’s ongoing campaign for international abolition of the penalty. It will be followed by the publication on Friday 27 April of a global report on executions.

  • Read the report Iraq: Unjust and Unfair: The death penalty in Iraq
  • Find out more about our work to end the death penalty /li>

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