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May 7 2009 | IRAQ

Ieaq

U.N. condemns death penalty resumption. Over 150 inmates inside death row

 
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Reuters

Iraq should rethink death penalty resumption-U.N.

* U.N. urges Iraq to reconsider resuming death penalty

* U.N. concerned about fairness of trials

* Iraq deputy justice minister rejects criticisms

(adds deputy justice minister reaction)

By Tim Cocks

BAGHDAD, May 6 - The United Nations urged Iraq on Wednesday to reconsider its resumption of the death penalty and said more than 100 prisoners on death row may not have had fair trials.

A U.N. official, who declined to be named, told Reuters Sunday's executions of a dozen convicts in Baghdad were thought to be the first for about 18 months, although there may have been others carried out that were not made public.

"It is a matter of regret that, after a year and a half of non-application of the death penalty, executions have resumed," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. mission in Baghdad said in a joint statement.

"The Iraqi justice system does not guarantee sufficient fair trial procedures in accordance with ... the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Iraq's Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim told Reuters the number of Iraqis on death row was around 150, higher than the U.N. estimate of 115. He rejected the U.N. criticisms.

"They missed the truth. Iraqi justice is fair," he said. "What is said in this report could be said of Saddam's time. In the whole history of Iraq, we have never witnessed trials as fair as those being conducted nowadays."

Iraq reintroduced the death penalty in 2004 after it was suspended following the U.S.-led invasion a year earlier.

The U.N. official said the pause in executions was "something of a mystery" but may have been because Iraq had no permanent justice minister for most of that period.

Rights groups say trials ending in death sentences are often poorly conducted in a country where insurgents have assassinated numerous judges and the government has been rebuilt completely since the invasion in 2003.

"It is of particular concern that the prohibition of the use of evidence -- including confessions -- gathered under duress or torture, and the right not to be compelled to ... confess guilt, are often violated in Iraq," the U.N. statement said.

 

HANGMAN SADDAM

Iraq's most high-profile execution since 2003 was that of former dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab hanged in 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity over the killing of 148 Shi'ite men and boys in the 1980s.

Some rights groups say his trial was tainted by politics.

Members of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority were outraged by a video that showed the ousted leader being subjected to sectarian taunts by official observers from the Shi'ite-led governing coalition just before he was executed.

His half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was executed two weeks later in a botched hanging that tore off his head.

Rights group Amnesty International has called on Iraq to make public the names of those to be executed, and the charges against them. It says the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent in a country plagued by suicide bombers and others willing to sacrifice their lives.

Ibrahim rejected that argument.

"Executions are necessary in Iraq, (which faces) ... terrorism," he said. "Why are they (the U.N.) criticising us but not criticising the United States for practicing execution?"

Amnesty estimates that more than 130 people have been executed in the past three years, and many more sentenced to death, while cautioning accurate figures are hard to obtain.

The fate of tens of thousands of Iraqis, many of them Sunni Arabs, in U.S. and Iraqi detention is a sensitive issue as the country tries to recover from years of sectarian bloodshed. (Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; editing by Robert Woodward)

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