Iran: UN rights experts ‘alarmed’ at sharp increase in hangings, urges halt to executions

Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

22 January 2014 – Independent United Nations human rights expert today called on the Government of Iran to urgently halt executions, given reports that at least 40 people have been hanged so far this year.

“We are dismayed at the continued application of the death penalty with alarming frequency by the authorities, despite repeated calls for Iran to establish a moratorium on executions,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, in a news release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He stressed “the inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty,” adding that the Government is proceeding with executions that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” as required by international law.

The Government reportedly hanged 33 people in the past week alone. In 2013, 625 people were executives, including at least 28 women and a number of political prisoners.

The majority of those executions were for drug-related offences, but a number of individuals were also executed for the crimes of Moharabeh (“enmity against God”), or acting against national security, according to OHCHR.

Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, also voiced concern at an increase in executions of political activists and individuals from ethnic minority groups, saying: “The persistent execution of individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association, and affiliation to minority groups contravenes universally accepted human rights principles and norms.”

The experts also noted that the Government hanged 16 members of the Baloch community on 26 October 2013, in apparent reprisal to the killings of 14 border guards the day before.

“Execution of individuals as a form of retaliation for another crime is an action unquestionably illegal under international human rights law,” the experts said.

“We once more urge the Government of Iran, as an active member of the international community, to heed the calls for a moratorium on executions, especially in cases relating to political activists and alleged drug-offences,” they said.

“We urge the Iranian authorities at least to restrict the use of the death penalty to what is permissible as an exception under international law, and namely to limit its imposition only for the crime of intentional killing, and to respect stringently international standards guaranteeing fair trial and due process for those facing the death penalty,” the Special Rapporteurs stressed.

The experts’ appeal was also endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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