LONDON, (Reuters) – Iraq’s use of the death penalty has risen rapidly since it was reinstated in mid-2004 and it now ranks as the country with the fourth-highest rate of executions in the world, Amnesty International said on Friday.
The London-based human rights group said in a report that Iraq had sentenced more than 270 people to death since sovereignty was handed back to the Iraqis by the Americans in mid-2004. Of those, at least 100 have so far been executed.
“Iraq now figures among the countries with the highest numbers of executions reported in 2006,” the group said. “Higher totals were recorded only in China, Iran and Pakistan.”
Among those to have been executed are former president Saddam Hussein and three of his closest advisers who were convicted last year of crimes against humanity for their part in scores of deaths in the 1980s.
But beyond those high-profile executions, which Amnesty said took place after a trial that “failed to meet international fair trial standards”, the rights group said it was also concerned about lower-key cases in the Iraqi Central Criminal Court.
Death sentences are frequently handed down after very brief trials in which defendants are poorly represented, seldom allowed to give evidence and are often tortured into making confessions that are then used against them. “The restoration of the death penalty in Iraq and its extension to additional crimes was a grave and retrograde step,” Amnesty said. “More than this, it was a grievously short-sighted development, one that has contributed to, rather than helped alleviate, the continuing crisis in Iraq.”
The group urged Iraq to introduce a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty, which is opposed by the European Union and the United Nations but remains common in the United States.