Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Can Iraq Let Go of the Death Penalty?

By: Ali Rawaf

In the West, the debate over the death penalty has been heated and ongoing for a long time. Recently, the execution of Troy Davis, a former inmate in the State of Georgia in the US, has brought this subject back to the attention of the world. Different countries, religious groups, and human rights groups have protested the death sentence that was given to Troy Davis, who was convicted of killing a police officer 20 years ago but the evidence in the case wasn’t conclusive. In the Middle East, the death penalty hasn’t been as much debated as it is in the west. After all, most governments in the Middle East don’t have to follow the legal procedure to see the execution of their citizens. 

In Iraq, courts have to deal with more than just ordinary killers and criminals. They have to deal with terrorists and mass killers so the death penalty is given more often than in other countries. In one court hearing in 2005, a woman described why she wanted the capital punishment for the killers of her son, “They broke his arms. They broke his legs. They took out his eyeballs […] I want the death penalty.” This is one of hundreds of similar cases and so, hundreds of death sentences have been given since 2003.

Under the counter-terrorism laws, the government had established the “secret informer,” a guarantee from the government that if one reports a terrorist activity, the person’s identity shall remain secret. Because of the “secret informer,” many have been arrested without real offenses and many have wrongly been executed.
According to Amnesty International, Iraqi authorities justify the use of the death penalty as form of deterrence, even though officials like the former Iraqi Human Rights Minister admit that it is useless. In 2010, the organization listed in its report that 1100 prisoners are under the sentence of death and most of them have ran out of ways to appeal their sentences.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Iraqi authorities to stop the death penalty in the country, citing high numbers of death sentences, many of which are given without fair trials or without any evidence. The Parliament has finally paid some attention to this issue. The Human Rights Committee in Parliament announced today that they will debate a legislation to stop the death penalty in the country. Parliament members said that mounting pressure from human rights groups have pushed them to consider such a measure. Other members say, given the security situation, this type of legislation will not do the country any good at this point in time.

The question to Mailki’s government is how much do they really care about promoting reconciliation in the country? If they do care one tiny bit, ending the death sentence would be a good place to start. 

Iraq: Human Rights Briefing 2010 - Amnesty International

Radio Sawa: Discussions About New Legislation to Stop Death Penalty

Washington Post: Capitol Punishment Returns to Iraq

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