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UN urges Iraq to place moratorium on death penalty

[JURIST] UN officials called on the government of Iraq Sunday to impose a moratorium on the death penalty [press release] in response to a significant rise in executions since the country restored capital punishment in 2005. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] published a new report [text, PDF] documenting the substantial rise in executions and troubling weaknesses in the country's criminal justice system. Last year 177 people were executed. Often carried out in batches, up to 34 of these executions took place in a single day. As of August 2014, some 1,724 prisoners are awaiting execution, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice [official website, in Arabic]. The report notes systematic failures in the administration of justice in death penalty cases, highlighting that criminal investigations and judicial proceedings often neglect international and constitutional guarantees of due process and fair trial standards. Many convictions were reportedly based on questionable evidence, disputed confessions or testimony of secret informants. The UN also says judges systematically ignored claims by defendants that confessions were induced by torture. The report calls for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as the first step towards its abolition.

The death penalty [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue worldwide. Earlier this month UN rights officials called for the international abolition of the death penalty [JURIST report]. Last month the OHCHR and a number of UN officials urged global leaders to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report] in a presentation and accompanying report entitled "Moving Away from the Death Penalty." In September two experts from the OHCHR urged Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In June former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned Iran's use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders [JURIST report] and called on authorities to halt the announced execution of 17-year-old Razieh Ebrahimi. In May the OHCHR urged the US to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty following a botched execution [JURIST reports] performed in Oklahoma the previous week.

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