Iran: The last executioner of children

January 1, 2011

Iran: The last executioner of children

Under Article 24 of the Penal Code, the Supreme Leader has the power to grant pardons or to reduce or commute sentences, on the recommendation of the Head of the Judiciary "in accordance with Islamic principles", a phrase that appears to exclude qesas and hodoud26 cases, where the right to pardon is not viewed as lying with the realm of the state. The Regulations Governing the Amnesty Commission state in Article 10(1) that all death sentences can be subject to pardon, with the exception of qesas-e nafs (presumably on the grounds that the right to pardon lies solely with the victim’s blood relatives). However, Article 9(7) states that crimes such as espionage, corruption (ertesha’), rape (zena ba ‘onf), kidnapping and armed robbery are excluded from pardon. These crimes can, in some or in all circumstances, carry the death penalty, when classified as hodoud offences.

This appears to mean that for many types of crimes punishable by death in Iran, there is no, or only very limited, possibility of pardon or commutation by the state. This contravenes Article 6(4) of the ICCPR which states:

"Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases."27
Most of the child offenders currently on death row whose cases are known to Amnesty International were sentenced to qesas, or to death for rape. Therefore, they cannot seek a pardon or commutation from the Head of State. Rather, their fate, once their death sentence has been confirmed, lies in the hands of the Head of the Judiciary.
Unfair trials
Under international human rights law, those suspected of or charged with crimes punishable by death are entitled to the strictest observance of all fair trial guarantees at all stages of the legal proceedings, including during the investigation stage, as well as to certain additional safeguards. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that "the death penalty should be quite an exceptional measure" and should only be handed down after a trial that observes all the procedural guarantees for a fair hearing.28 Any death sentence imposed after a trial that does not conform to all fair trial guarantees would amount to arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.

In Iran, serious failings in the justice system commonly result in unfair trials, including in cases where child offenders and other defendants face the death penalty. These failings include: lack of access to legal counsel and to a lawyer of one’s choice; ill-treatment in pre-trial detention; allowing confessions extracted under duress to be used in proceedings; the use of detention centres outside the official prison system; denial of the right to call defence witnesses; failing to give adequate time to the defence to present its case; and imprisoning defence lawyers if they protest against unfair proceedings.29

For example, a defendant’s right to legal counsel is one of the key safeguards for a fair trial, enshrined in international law,30 and applies to all stages of the judicial process. The Human Rights Committee and other human rights bodies have further recognized that the right to a fair trial requires that any accused should have access to a lawyer during detention, interrogation and preliminary investigations. The right of detainees to be assisted by a lawyer when charged is also enshrined in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. Principle 6 notes specifically that individuals charged with serious crimes should have access to a lawyer "of experience and competence commensurate with the nature of the offence," who should be provided free of charge if the defendant does not have the means to pay for such services.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child stresses that "legal or other appropriate assistance must be present. This presence should not be limited to the trial before the court or other judicial body, but also applies to all other stages of the process, beginning with the interviewing (interrogation) of the child by the police."31