Commute Iraq death sentences – urges Amnesty

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THE IRAQI authorities executed 12 people last Sunday according to information received by Amnesty International, which has called for all death sentences to be commuted.

The 12 are believed to be among 128 people on death row, and fears are growing that more executions will follow in the coming days or weeks.

The Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council confirmed to Amnesty International on 9 March 2009 that Iraq’s Presidential Council had ratified the death sentences of 128 people who had been facing imminent execution.

The death sentences were originally passed by criminal courts in Baghdad, Basra and other cities and provinces on charges under Iraq’s Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism law that include murder and kidnapping, and were upheld by the Cassation Court.

A spokesperson for Amnesty International expressed dismay at the executions and called for their full names to be disclosed.

‘Amnesty International is urging the authorities to commute all death sentences and to establish an immediate moratorium on executions,’ said Malcolm Smart, the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

‘Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases.’

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on Wednesday also expressed their concern at the resumption of the execution of the death penalty in Iraq. 

OHCHR and UNAMI are concerned that, at present, the Iraqi justice system does not guarantee sufficient fair trial procedures in accordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq is a state party. 

It is of particular concern that the prohibition of the use of evidence – including confessions – gathered under duress or torture, and the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt, are often violated in Iraq.

They say that this renders the imposition of the death penalty arbitrary.

Under international law, the death penalty may only be applied in a very strictly defined set of circumstances.

One of these is that a death sentence can only be imposed after a fair trial in which the minimum standards laid down by Article 14 of the Covenant have been respected.

An execution arising from a trial at which these standards have not been observed, constitutes a violation of the right to life under Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The OHCHR also advocates the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances and has recommended that the Iraqi Government consider formally establishing a moratorium on the death penalty.

This should be pending a thorough review of the Iraqi Penal Code and the Law on Criminal Proceedings, in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 62/149. 

The UN body believes it is a matter of regret that, after a year and half of non-application of the death penalty, executions have resumed.

OHCHR and UNAMI say they stand ready to assist the Government of Iraq in reviewing relevant domestic legislation in the light of international standards and Iraq’s international obligations.

l Al-Jazeera satellite TV at 0523 gmt on 6 May interviewed Iraqi journalist Ali Mahmud live via telephone from Baghdad for an update on breaking reports of a bombing in a farmers market in Baghdad’s Al-Dawrah neighbourhood, that killed 10 people and wounded 35 others.

Mahmud said that ‘initial information suggests that a booby-trapped car was detonated in the middle of the market’, adding that the attack’s toll is likely to rise given the large number of people present in the market at the time of the bombing.

He spoke of a ‘return’ of violence to Al-Dawrah – located in the country’s so-called Sunni triangle – and other densely-populated areas over the past few weeks.

Asked if the attack can be tied to Al-Dawrah’s ‘social fabric’, Mahmud explained that Al-Dawrah ‘is home to a wide sectarian spectrum that includes Sunni Arabs, Shi’i Arabs, and a minority of Christians’.

He noted that families had started returning to the area with improvements in security, but maintains that ‘certain parties’ want a return to sectarian violence and feuding.

Told that his description of the area’s social fabric ‘rules out, at least initially, the targeting of a specific sect,’ the journalist agrees and ties Wednesday’s bombing to recent deadly car bombings in the predominantly Shi’i Al-Sadr City in Baghdad.

He said that Wednesday’s attack, ‘which targeted an area of different sectarian flavour’, is a prelude to larger attacks meant to rekindle sectarian tensions.

• On Monday the Iraqi government reaffirmed its commitment to a June 30 deadline for the withdrawal of US occupation forces from all cities and towns, and their complete pullout from Iraq by the end of 2011. 

 

‘The Iraqi government is committed to the dates for the agreed-upon withdrawal of American forces from all the cities and towns by June 30 of this year,’ government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

He said Iraq was also committed to the 2011 deadline.  

‘These dates cannot be extended,’ al-Dabbagh insisted, ‘and they are in keeping with the process of transitioning and handing over responsibility to Iraqi security forces, according to what was agreed upon.’

The timetable was enshrined in a landmark security pact signed with Washington in November.

But recently, some US commanders and Iraqi leaders had hinted that troops might remain in some especially volatile areas past June.