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Death Penalty Information

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Iraq: we'd like to abolish the death penalty
by Laura MacInnis
March 14, 2007
GENEVA, March 14 (Reuters) - The government of Iraq, which was heavily criticised internationally for the way it executed Saddam Hussein, wants to abolish the death penalty, its human rights minister said on Wednesday.

The first step would be to limit capital punishment, which was re-introduced over two years ago to combat spiraling criminal violence, to the most extreme cases such as genocide and crimes against humanity, Wijdan Michael told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

"We are working at the present moment in order to pave the way to eliminate capital punishment in Iraq, after restricting it to the largest possible extent," Michael said, speaking through an interpreter.

Images of the country's former dictator being taunted as he awaited execution in December, and the accidental decapitation of his half-brother and aide Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti during a January hanging, caused an outcry.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour appealed unsuccessfully to Iraq to stop the executions of Saddam and his aides on the grounds that their trials for crimes against humanity did not meet minimum international standards.

Under international law the death penalty can only be used as an exceptional measure, and there must always be a right of appeal against the sentence, something that was denied to Saddam, she said.

Although the United Nations opposes capital punishment, the death penalty still exists in nearly 70 countries, including the United States, which led a 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam and unleashed a sectarian conflict.

More than 1,200 people convicted of insurgent activity by the U.S.-sponsored Central Criminal Court of Iraq have so far been sentenced to death, but there are no precise figures on convictions and executions.

Capital punishment was frequently used under Saddam, but it was suspended by the U.S.-led military alliance.

The minister said Iraq, where human rights activists say torture and abuse is widespread in prisons, also wants to join the optional protocol of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment and arbitrary executions.
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