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Iraq Executing Its Citizens at High Rate, Even with Evidence Confessions Induced by Torture
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Iraq Executing Its Citizens at High Rate, Even with Evidence Confessions Induced by Torture

Summary: According to a recent investigation by the United Nations, the Iraqi government is sentencing citizens to death in increasing numbers as torture-induced confessions are used as evidence against them.

In a disturbing report, the United Nations states that the Iraqi government is both torturing and wrongfully executing hundreds of its citizens. In recent months, genocidal slaughter led by the Islamic State, as well as extra-judicial killings implemented by Shia death squads, have made headlines around the world.


According to Vice News, in the report, the UN stated that in over half of the capital trials conducted in Iraq, judges “systematically ignored claims by defendants that they were subjected to torture to induce confessions.” The trials the UN reported on were monitored by their investigators.

According to the UN, the torture-induced confessions represent a criminal system that has no proper methodology in place to properly carry out criminal investigations. The Iraqi government is also accused of implementing anti-terrorism laws to expedite the executions of both dissidents and suspected terrorists.

The report noted, “The use of the death penalty in such circumstances carries the risk of grievous and irreversible miscarriages of justice since innocent people may face execution for crimes they did not commit.”

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In 2004, capital punishment was reinstated in Iraq. Since that point, the government in Baghdad has executed over 675 prisoners. Eleven were executed in 2005, but the amount of death penalty cases has been rising steadily ever since. The number especially rose after U.S. forces withdrew from the area in 2011. Last year 177 Iraqi citizens were hanged. In 2013, only two countries executed a higher number of citizens than Iraq: China and Iran.

As of August, roughly 60 people had been hanged. Death row numbers in Iraqi jails total 1,724 detainees. The United States, in comparison, has just over 3,000 inmates on death row, but its population is nine times that of Iraq.

Another disturbing fact reported was that “many female detainees alleged that they had been detained in lieu of male family members.” Women make up a small portion of those awaiting execution. In addition, two cases were noted by the UN that suggested some prisoners were under 18 years of age at the time of their crimes, but they received the death sentence after “an ordinary medical doctor” testified that the inmates were older.

Francesco Motta, the head of the UN’s human rights office in Iraq, said, “Police are poorly trained and equipped. In the current environment police arrest a person, and, because they have to have evidence in order to charge and try the individual…they inevitably resort to forcing a confession from the accused—which in turn is often the only, or a significant part of the prosecution’s case.”

Both Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, and Nickolay Mladenov, its special representative for Iraq, urged the Iraqi government to halt the death penalty in light of the report’s release.

Zeid said, “Given the weaknesses of the criminal justice system in Iraq, executing individuals whose guilt may be questionable merely compounds the sense of injustice and alienation among certain sectors of the population, which in turn serves as one of the contributing factors that is exploited by extremists to fuel the violence.”

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The Iraqi parliament passed a rigorous anti-terrorism law in 2005. Sunni leaders have felt that the law unfairly targets their communities and those who do not support Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The law reads, “…anyone who committed, as a main perpetrator or a participant, a terrorist act, along with anyone who incites, plans, finances or assists terrorists to commit such a crime” will receive the death penalty.

The former president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, opposed the death penalty. Mass hangings previously occurred when the Kurdish president was not in Iraq—in a single day in 2013, 34 prisoners were executed.

Under the laws in Iraq, there is no guaranteed right to an attorney or silence. This means that those who were charged under the 2005 anti-terrorism law can be held indefinitely in jail without ever having a trial or facing their charges.

UN investigators discovered that suspects who appear before a judge, for the most part, do so without an attorney present. If the court does appoint an attorney for the defendant—which is rare—“rarely is any time given to the defendant to prepare his or her defense, and the only intervention on the part of the lawyer is most likely—if at all—during sentencing, when a perfunctory plea for clemency or leniency is made,” according to Motta.

Nearly all prisoners—95 percent–who spoke with Motta’s staff said that they were subjected to abuse or torture in able to force them to confess. Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, and a former researcher for Human Rights Watch in Baghdad, observed, “The system is at its weakest when you are practicing dragnet detention policies. That only gets worse in times of crisis and it means that a lot of otherwise innocent people get caught up.”

While the United States occupied Iraq, courts occasionally would see coalition soldiers offer testimony in terrorism cases. Hanna recalled, “We had this strange hybrid, at times we did have the introduction of forensic evidence.”

The judicial system, along with the country’s security forces, were included in the United States’ efforts to remove lingering pieces of Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, the process gave the public the impression that the judicial branch was ruled by components close to the government. “It’s been a broken system for a long time. That has only gotten worse as the sectarian violence has increased,” Hanna explained.

Both the UN and legal experts have noted that the death penalty itself is not illegal under international treaties. However, torture is banned, and the right to a fair trial is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Motta said, “In our view, in order to address the root causes of terrorism and insurgency, the government must as urgently be seen to provide real justice to the people of Iraq, by undertaking reform of the criminal justice system to ensure due process and fair trial standards.”

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