Iraq’s use of the death penalty increases, with 169 killed in 2013

At least 169 people were put to death in 2013, by far the country’s highest such figure since the 2003 United States-led invasion, and one that puts it third in the world, behind China and Iran.

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BAGHDAD // Iraq’s use of the death penalty has increased despite international condemnation, with some fearing execution rates could rise further as officials seek to appear tough on security ahead of elections.

At least 169 people were put to death in 2013, by far the country’s highest such figure since the 2003 United States-led invasion, and one that puts it third in the world, behind just China and Iran.

Iraqi officials insist capital punishment is both sanctioned by Islam and an effective way to curb violence, despite the fact that this year’s executions have had no visible effect on the worst protracted surge in bloodshed since 2008.

Diplomats and human rights groups calling for a moratorium meanwhile point to major problems with Iraq’s security forces and within the criminal justice system.

“What is more disturbing than the fact of the use of the death penalty itself ... is the fact that the utter dysfunction of the criminal justice system means that there is a very high likelihood that the people who are being executed are innocent,” said Erin Evers, Iraq researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Not just trials, but the entire security system from the moment of arrest right through the trials. It’s both inadequacy of investigations, in terms of lack of professionalism, lack of collection of evidence, to corruption within the security apparatus, and between the security officers and the judiciary.”

Those sentenced to death are usually hanged, often in groups.

Seven people were put to death in December, bringing the overall number for 2013 to 169.

A total of 129 people were executed in 2012.

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has said that Iraq’s justice system is “not functioning adequately”.

And the US state department said in its 2012 Human Rights Report that “credible accounts of abuse and torture during arrest and investigation, in pretrial detention, and after conviction, particularly by police and army, were common.”

But the Iraq justice minister, Hassan Al Shammari, has insisted that executions are carried out only after an exhaustive legal process.

Iraq’s human rights ministry has also voiced approval, arguing that carrying out the death penalty acts as a deterrent and will help promote human rights in the long term.

“The Iraqi government has a fixed and clear stance for implementation of the death penalty against those who are found guilty because it is a deterrent to criminals and terrorists who kill Iraqis every day,” said the human rights minister, Mohammed Al Sudani.

* Agence France-Presse