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Iraq's race towards injustice and the hangman's gallows Open in fullscreen

Sophia Akram

Iraq's race towards injustice and the hangman's gallows

Saddam's execution was broadcast on Iraqi TV, and many more have followed [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 July, 2015

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Comment: Despite international outcry about unfair trials which often lead to the hangman's noose, Iraq's government is looking at speeding up the process of execution, without a chance of appeal.

On 15 June 2015, a communication from Iraq's ministry of justice relayed a meeting between senior figures in the ministry.

In it, Justice Minister Haidi Zamil made a long and passionate speech about Iraq's long traditions of human rights.

At the same time it was suggested that the process of hanging convicts should be speeded up - after they had been found guilty - due to the exceptional security circumstances the country faced.

The death penalty acted as a deterrent in the spate of mass killings and other atrocities taking place in northern Iraq by extremists, he concluded.

Quick death

The amendment to the criminal procedure code, if approved by parliament, will allow the justice minister to sanction execution orders within 30 days of a death sentence being passed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have urged parliament to reject the proposals, although they accept the extraordinary challenges the country faces in its war against the Islamic State group.

     Bremer pointed out that executions had been used by the Baathist regime to suppress the population.

Most human rights groups say that "terrorists" should be dealt with in accordance with the law, and that Iraq should be moving towards a moratorium, rather than expediating the death penalty.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the toppling of the former leader, Saddam Hussein, Paul Bremer, presidential envoy to Iraq, placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the newly occupied country. 

Bremer pointed out that executions, along with other elements of the CPC, had been used by the Baathist regime to suppress the population.

The moratorium was lifted a year later, and executions resumed in 2005. The reason given was that Iraq faced extraordinary security circumstances and executions would be reduced once the security situation stabilised.

In many cases, defendants have been coerced into giving confessions without a lawyer present.

This violates the international covenant on civil and political rights and the convention against torture, which Iraq is subject too.

Torture and other forms of ill treatment are prohibited by these conventions, and a defendant has a right to due process and a fair trial.

Article 15 of the torture convention specifically requires states to disregard any statement made as a result of torture or other ill treatment.

Unfair trials

Human Rights Watch has, however, documented a number of cases where terrorism charges have been brought against people based on evidence extracted from forced confessions.

One such case was that of Tunisian-born Mohamed Medini, in an April 2015 terrorism trial.

His mother told the NGO that her son was tortured into confession in 2008 - although this is difficult to prove as his medical records "disappeared" and his conviction was based on a confession.

Another lawyer in the court, present on the same day, said that the defendent had no legal counsel when the confession was given.

In October 2014, Rasha al-Husseini, a secretary to former vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi was sentenced to death for "terrorism", and again the prosecution was based on a confession by the defendent.

Her lawyers stated that she was psychologically and physically tortured.

Even prosecutors have called for convictions to be quashed for lack of evidence - but sentences continue, nonetheless.

No hope

Jalal Talabani, Iraq's former president, is known to be an opponent of the death penalty, and has refused to ratify death sentences. The duty fell to the vice-president at the time, Khodair al-Khozaei.

Iraq's new president, Fuad Mossam, has been simarily reluctant to pass death sentences, despite a petition being signed by 100 MPs who demanded that more than 1,000 death sentences be ratified.

     The government should look now at reinstating the moratorium on the death penalty.

This is likely the reason the cabinet has asked for the task to be delegated to the Justice Ministry.

Iraq has the third-highest number of executions in the world, with 675 killed by the state between 2005 and August 2014. At the same time, non-state violence is rising to unprecedented levels.

With the religious and ideological motivations of the insurgency in Iraq following the US-led invasion, the fanaticism whipped up by the Islamic State group and the urge for revenge among other militias, the death penalty is hardly a deterrent.

The government should look now at reinstating the moratorium on the death penalty.

The Iraqi justice system is inherently deficient: as well as forced confessions and lack of legal representation, there is a dearth in adequate investigation of alleged crimes and arbitrary and excessive punishments.

Death sentences, by international law, should be reserved for the most serious crimes. However, Iraq's anti-terrorism law allows convicts to be hanged for non-lethal crimes.

There is also no room for clemency for the condemned - again, contrary to international human rights rulings.

Injustice fuels extremism rather than deters it, and members of the Islamic State group should face free and fair trials rather than the noose.

Sophia Akram is a research professional specialising in migration and conflict in the Middle East and Asia. Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

Opinions stated in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.


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