UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United Nations has criticized Iraq’s mass execution of 42 prisoners affiliated with ISIS on Sunday in the southern city of Nasiriyah, raising concerns over the use of the death penalty and due process.
“I am appalled to learn of the execution of 42 prisoners in a single day,” Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a press release from his office on Wednesday. “Under international law, the death penalty may only be imposed after a strict set of substantive and procedural requirements have been met.”
Hussein said it was “extremely doubtful” that the strict due process rules and fair trail guarantees, such as the men’s rights to legal assistance or a full appeals process, had been met in every case.
“In such circumstances, there is a clear risk of a gross miscarriage of justice,” he added.
He also stressed that if the death penalty was to be imposed on confirmed ISIS affiliated members that it should only be used in the “most serious of crimes.”
“We can all agree that members of terrorist groups who are proven to have committed serious crimes should be held fully accountable for them,” Hussein said. “However, Iraq’s use of anti-terrorism legislation to impose the death penalty for a wide range of acts does not appear to meet the strict threshold of ‘most serious crimes.’”
The Iraqi central government claimed that the prisoners who were executed were Iraqi nationals connected to ISIS or al-Qaeda and had been charged under anti-terrorism laws such as carrying out armed robberies, kidnapping, killing members of the security forces, or detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). However, no specific trial information or names and places of residence had been released.
“The lack of precise information about the cases is an additional cause for concern,” Hussein added.
Human rights staff of the UN have repeatedly requested information in regards to the use of the death penalty over the last two years, even as recently as last week, but have yet to receive responses from either the judiciary or Iraqi government.
The UN human rights office stated that approximately 1,200 of the 6,000 prisoners held in Nasiriyah have been sentenced to death, but has warned that the Iraqi judicial system is too flawed to allow for any executions.
“We are extremely concerned at reports that Iraq may be planning to expedite the process of executing prisoners already sentenced to death, and that this could result in more large-scale executions in the coming weeks,” Hussein said. “This raises the prospect of further violations, as the imposition of a death sentence upon the conclusion of a trial in which fair trial provisions have not been respected constitutes a violation of the right to life.”
Hussein stated that the UN was concerned about Iraq’s lack of compliance in its international human rights obligations by imposing the death penalty.
“I urge Iraq to step back from its policy of accelerated or mass executions,” Hussein said.
He also called upon the Iraqi government to make legal reforms that would ensure prisoners receive due process and fair trial standards.
“I also urge the authorities to halt all imminent executions and to establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” he added.
Earlier this month, at the request of Iraq, the UN Security Council unanimously approved establishing a team to assist Iraq investigate ISIS crimes and hold the group accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The UN’s team will respect the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Iraq as they collect evidence to be used in fair and independent criminal proceedings in Iraqi courts.