Iraq’s execution of five prisoners is a brazen knee-jerk reaction to the abhorrent weekend Baghdad bombing and a worrying sign that the country is stepping up its use of the death penalty, Amnesty International said today.
The Iraqi Ministry of Justice said that the five prisoners had been put to death on Tuesday as authorities vowed more executions would be carried out following Saturday night’s attack in Baghdad, which killed at least 213 people and injured a further 200, according to media reports.
“The Baghdad bombing that targeted civilians in a busy shopping area is an unconscionable attack on the basic right to life and a war crime, and there can be no justification for such odious violence,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
The armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility.
Amnesty International called for those responsible to be brought to justice in fair trials without resorting to the death penalty.
“Executions are not the solution and they do not address the root causes of crime. The death penalty, which is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, has been proven time and time again not to have a greater deterrent effect than a term of imprisonment,” said Luther.
The criminal justice system remains critically flawed in Iraq. Trials, particularly of defendants facing charges under the anti-terrorism law and possible death sentences, can be grossly unfair, with courts often admitting torture-tainted evidence, including when defendants recant their “confessions” in court.
In a statement on Monday, the Ministry of Justice said it would “categorically reject” any international interference in its executions, adding it would not accept any human rights arguments against the death penalty. The ministry said that 3,000 people remained on death row, while more defendants were being sentenced to death.
Last year, the Iraqi cabinet had proposed amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure aimed at speeding up the execution process.
Before a death sentence can be carried out, the president of Iraq must ratify it. But if the amendment is passed, executions could be carried out without the president’s approval a month after being submitted for ratification. The cabinet’s proposal would also make it more difficult for defendants sentenced to death to seek a retrial.
“The government’s response marks a worrying surge in the use of the death penalty in the country’s counter-terrorism efforts,” said Luther.
“We call on Iraq to immediately halt all executions and establish an official moratorium on executions. The country cannot continue to use counter-terrorism to justify gross miscarriages of justice and the use of the death penalty.”
Iraqi courts have handed down more than 123 death sentences in 2016 alone, mostly to men accused of acts of terrorism. At least 105 people have already been executed this year.
Former President Jalal Talabani refused to ratify any death sentences, which led to a backlog. Last year, the new president, Fuad Ma’sum, came under significant pressure from MPs and the public to ratify death sentences following the Speicher massacre, in which at least 1,700 military cadets from Speicher military camp near Tikrit were killed after capture by IS fighters in June 2014. A special committee was set up in the presidency to manage the backlog.
On June 29, 2016, Amnesty International wrote to the Iraqi authorities asking them to halt all executions, establish an official moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences, and ensure that all retrials are in full compliance with international fair trial standards.