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Middle east

Queues on death row in Iraq, says rights group

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2009-09-03

Amnesty International says Iraq, which reinstated the death penalty in 2004, now has one of the world’s highest death penalty rates. The human rights group estimates that 1,000 are waiting on death row.

On Wednesday, four Iraqi security members were sentenced to death for a multi-million dollar bank robbery in Baghdad in which eight police guards were shot, illustrating, according to Amnesty International, the increased use of the death penalty in Iraq.


The NGO claims that more than 1,000 people are waiting for execution on death row in Iraq.


According to Amnesty’s Middle East spokesperson, Nicole Choueiry, their figures are based on statistics released by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights in 2008 and updated according to information collected from contacts working in Iraq.


However, figures might be much higher, Choueiry said in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The real figure is probably much higher because authorities have been releasing less and less information over the past 18 months,” said Choueiry. Authorities may be more reluctant to publish information because of “growing international condemnation of Iraq’s use of the death penalty,” she added.


The death penalty, a popular policy


According to a government source speaking on condition on anonymity to the AFP, there are an average of ten executions per week because of the recent surge of violence in Iraq.


A police officer at Al-Adalah prison where executions are carried out told the AFP that "10 to 15 executions are carried out every seven to eight days, the majority of them terrorists."


That’s an estimate Lebanon-based Iraqi legal expert Zaid Al-Ali says is “definitely possible” given levels of criminality and the government’s interest in appearing to establish law and order in the country.


“The current government is keen to establish law and order especially because it believes the next election will be decided on security issues,” he said in an interview with FRANCE 24, adding that “a large part of the population is in favour of the death penalty, especially now that violent crime has exploded.”


“When the death penalty was reintroduced in 2004, there were only a few executions, but when violence in Iraq spiralled out of control in 2005, the number of executions shot up,” said Al-Ali.


According to the Amnesty International report, Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki has repeatedly defended the death penalty and has called for the execution of the former senior members of the Ba’ath party who have been sentenced to death for crimes committed under Saddam Hussein.


Executions were suspended after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003 but were reintroduced by Iraqi authorities in 2004 with the argument that the death penalty was needed to combat a wave of sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents.


Al-Ali also alleges that Iraqi politics also influence who goes on death row. “The ministry of justice sends a note on death penalty convictions to the Council of Ministers who may approve or not approve of it; depending on the identity of the accused they may strike people off the list.”


Inefficiency and unfair trials


In its report, "A thousand people face the death penalty" Amnesty International also slams the conditions of detention and the quality of legal advice given to detainees, adding that defendants complained that confessions were extracted under torture.


“Conditions of the accused tend to be very poor in Iraq,” agrees Al-Ali. “Detainees are regularly beaten up, tortured and abused.” Detainees do, however, have access to some form of legal advice, though the quality of that advice is very “variable” and of little use, he said.


Neither is the Iraqi criminal justice system up to standards, according to Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock, who believes the Iraqi justice system can barely cope with standard trials, let alone death penalty cases.

Date created : 2009-09-02