UN rights chief speaks out against use of death penalty in Iran

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

13 October 2009 – The United Nations human rights chief today called for changes to Iranian laws to end the death penalty for juvenile offenders, and also voiced serious concern about the death sentences handed down to three people for their involvement in the recent post-election protests.

Behnoud Shojaie, who was executed on Sunday, had been convicted of the murder of another boy in a street fight when both were 17 years old, according to a news release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Both High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and UN special rapporteurs had raised his case with the Iranian authorities, reminding them of their international obligation not to execute juveniles.

Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which prohibit the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

Ms. Pillay had welcomed indications that the Iranian judiciary was encouraging victims’ families to reach private settlements in such cases. The former head of the judiciary had previously agreed to suspend Shojaie’s death sentence, in order to give the victim's family a chance to pardon him under Islamic Shariah law.

“This latest execution shows there are no guarantees of clemency for juveniles until Iran changes its law and practice to end execution of juvenile offenders once and for all,” Ms. Pillay said. “It is the State’s responsibility to stop these executions, not a family’s prerogative.”

The Iranian legislature is currently considering a new draft juvenile justice law that provides “a valuable opportunity to end the execution of juvenile offenders,” said OHCHR.

The High Commissioner also voiced serious concerns about the death sentences recently handed down to three individuals involved in the protests that took place after the country’s presidential election.

“Under international law, the death penalty can only be applied when very strict conditions are met, for example only in respect of the most serious crimes and only after scrupulously fair trials,” she noted.

The UN human rights mechanisms have held the view that the imposition of the death penalty for crimes that do not result in loss of life is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“There are also major concerns about the way the recent trials of opposition activists were conducted, and I hope these judgments will be reviewed carefully by the higher courts,” Ms. Pillay said.


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