October 19, 2014 / 6:28 PM / 3 years ago

Death penalty fuels violence in Iraq, says U.N. report

Iraq's newly elected president Fouad Masoum (R) meets with Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, in Baghdad July 27, 2014.Ahmed Saad

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iraq should stop its widespread use of the death penalty, which is unjust, flawed and only fuels the violence it purports to deter, the United Nations said in a report on Sunday.

Sixty people were hanged in Iraq by the end of August this year, and although that is fewer than the 177 who were executed in 2013, 1,724 people remained on death row.

Iraq tends to carry out the sentence in batches because President Jalal Talabani opposes the death penalty so a vice president orders executions when he is out of the country, said the report, published jointly by the U.N. Mission in Iraq and the U.N. Human Rights Office.

Judges often pass death sentences based on evidence from disputed confessions or secret informants, condemning suspects who are unaware of their rights, may have been tortured and have no defense attorney until they arrive in court, the report said.

"Far from providing justice to the victims of acts of violence and terrorism and their families, miscarriages of justice merely compound the effects of the crime by potentially claiming the life of another innocent person and by undermining any real justice that the victims and families might have received," the report said.

Some convicts' relatives said they had been offered a chance to avoid the death penalty by hiring a particular lawyer for $100,000, while many women detainees said they had been detained in place of a male relative, the report said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and U.N. Special Representative for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said Iraq should impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

The report said the Iraqi government's view that the death penalty deterred violence "appears not to be valid given the deteriorating security situation over the past years" and said the executions appeared to be merely a reaction to the violence.

It added that the death penalty would not deter extremists who were prepared to die to achieve their objectives.

The report also rejected the government's claim that its use of the death penalty enjoyed popular support in Iraq.

"Once informed of the facts, including that it has no deterrent effect whatsoever on levels of violence and the risks of serious and irreversible miscarriages of justice, it is unlikely that the death penalty would continue to enjoy the public support that it now allegedly receives," it said.

It also called on the autonomous Kurdistan Region, which has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, to abolish it permanently.

Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Andrew Roche

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