The last executioner of children
Two weeks after his 18th birthday in 2006, Sina Paymard was taken to the gallows to be hanged. As he stood there with a noose around his neck, he was asked for his final request. He said that he would like to play the ney – a Middle Eastern flute. Relatives of the murder victim, who were there to witness the hanging, were so moved by his playing that they agreed to accept the payment of diyeh (blood money) instead of retribution by death, as is allowed under Iranian law. Sina Paymard remains under sentence of death in Reja’i Shahr prison in Karaj.
Iran has the shameful status of being the world’s last official executioner(1) of child offenders – people convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. It also holds the macabre distinction of having executed more child offenders than any other country in the world since 1990, according to Amnesty International’s records.(2)
In many cases, child offenders under sentence of death in Iran are kept in prison until they reach 18 before execution. In this period, some win appeals against their conviction. Some have their sentence overturned on appeal and are freed after a retrial. Some are reprieved by the family of the victim in cases of qesas (retribution) crimes and are asked to pay diyeh instead. Some are executed.
Although executions of child offenders are few compared to the total number of executions in Iran, they highlight the government’s disregard for its commitments and obligations under international law, which prohibits in all circumstances the use of the death penalty for child offenders. The executions also gravely undermine the particular obligation that all states have relating to the protection of children – one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
How Iran was left behind
The execution of child offenders has all but stopped elsewhere in the world. Governments in all regions have ratified relevant international treaties that ban such executions and changed their domestic law to enforce the ban.
1994 – Yemen raised the minimum age for the imposition of the death penalty to 18 at the time of the offence under its Penal Code, as did Zimbabwe under its Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
1997 – China amended its criminal law to abolish the death penalty for child offenders.
2005 – the USA outlawed executions of child offenders after the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v Simmons that they violated the US Constitution.
Additionally, Pakistan adopted the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance in 2000, which abolished the death penalty for people under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. The ruling was declared void by the Lahore High Court in 2004, but in 2005 the Supreme Court reinstated the Ordinance, a ruling that is under appeal. Meanwhile the Ordinance remains in force.(3)
The international consensus against executing child offenders reflects the widespread recognition that because of children’s immaturity, impulsiveness, vulnerability and capacity for rehabilitation, their lives should never be written off – however heinous the crimes of which they are convicted. The guiding principle must be to maximize a child offender’s potential for eventual reintegration into society. Execution is the ultimate denial of this principle.
By sentencing child offenders to death, Iran is contravening international law and standards in three ways.
First, it is violating its treaty obligations. The international community has adopted four human rights treaties that explicitly exclude child offenders from the death penalty. Nearly all states are now party to one or more of these and are therefore legally obliged to respect the prohibition. Two of the treaties have worldwide scope: