The United Nations and the European Union have joined human rights groups in denouncing the recent execution of 26 people in Iraq, the latest in a wave of mass executions that have been carried out since the beginning of the year.
On August 27, 21 prisoners including three women were executed in Iraq, and five more were executed two days later. This brings the total number of executions in Iraq since the beginning of 2012 to almost 100, a worrying and significant increase compared to the 68 executions carried out during the whole of 2011.
The government of Iraq does not release the names of executed prisoners or details about their trials or offenses, but a justice ministry spokesperson announced that all of the prisoners, like most of those executed in the past few years, had been convicted of charges related to terrorism. Under Iraqi law, terrorism comprises offenses against transportation and communications infrastructure, and may cover such acts as the simple theft of electricity.
In addition to concerns about the vagueness and overbreadth of the offenses for which prisoners are executed, human rights groups have been alarmed by major problems with the fairness of criminal trials and by the prevalence of torture in Iraqi prisons and detention centres. There are reports that some of the convictions were based on coerced confessions.
Mass executions have been a growing concern this past year in Iraq. On one day in January, 34 prisoners were executed – the largest number of confirmed executions worldwide in a single day in years. Responding to the news, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was shocked. “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,” she stated.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been joined by the UN and the European Union in demanding a moratorium on executions. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq warns that “sources have indicated that more executions may be carried out in the coming days.” Although the Iraqi government does not publish any official data on death sentences, it is estimated that hundreds of prisoners remain on death row. That number, moreover, may be on the rise: since October 2011, Iraqi authorities have been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining hundreds of people incommunicado without trial or known charges.
-- Delphine Lourtau