UN Calls on Iran to Stop ‘Surge’ of Juvenile Executions

The UN human rights office has said Iran is the worst in the world when it comes to sentencing minors to death — a crime under international law. Three minors were executed in January, and 80 more remain on death row, Deutche Welle reports.

The UN raised alarm over three other detainees it believes could be facing an imminent death sentence over crimes committed while teenagers, including Abolfazl Chezani Sharahi, Hamid Hamadi and Omid Rostami, all of whom have had their scheduled executions postponed.

Iran is a signatory to two international treaties that prohibit capital punishment for offenses committed by minors. But that has not stopped the country from being the worst international offender when it comes to executing such juveniles, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights announced on Friday in a statement.

“I am sad to say that Iran violates this absolute prohibition under international human rights law far more often than any other state,” the office’s high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, wrote. “No other state comes even remotely close to the total number of juveniles who have been executed in Iran over the past couple of decades.”

The UN human rights head also blasted Iran for its gender discrepancy on the age of criminal responsibility, calling it “wholly unjustifiable on every level.” Girls become criminally responsible at the age of 9 and boys at the age of 15. However, Zeid immediately reiterated that executing any minor, whether male or female, was “illegal and unacceptable.”

The UN human rights commission has pushed for Iran to end the use of the death penalty altogether. According to Human Rights Watch, Iran is only one of four countries, the others being Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, that has executed child offenders since 2013. Iran did not immediately react to the UN commissioner’s statement.

According the UN human rights office, Iran has already put three juvenile offenders to death in 2018, compared to a total of five such executions in all of 2017. There are currently 80 people on death row for crimes allegedly carried out when they were minors, the rights office said in a statement.

Iran should “abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under eighteen,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, noting the “surge” in capital punishments.

“No other State comes even remotely close to the total number of juveniles who have been executed in Iran over the past couple of decades,” Zeid said.

Zeid expressed particular concern about three pending executions that had been postponed various times, in one case due to a promised payment of “diyah,” or blood money, from the convict’s family to the family of the alleged victim. He described the trial of another juvenile offender who faces the death sentence as “widely considered to have been grossly unfair.”

The three juvenile offenders subjected to the death penalty in January were:  Mahboubeh Mofidi, who was 16 years old when, with the help of her brother-in-law, she allegedly killed her husband, who had married her when she was just 13 years old. She was 20 at the time of her execution on 30 January; 18-year-old Amir Hussein Pourjafar who allegedly raped and murdered a young Afghan girl when he was 16; 22-year-old Ali Kazemi who was just 15 when he allegedly committed murder.

On Jan. 3, independent U.N. human rights experts called on Iran to spare the life of Amir Hossein Pourjafar, who was convicted of raping and killing a child when he was 15. He is among the three listed in Zeid’s statement as having been executed so far this year.

Zeid welcomed a bill passed in Oct. 2017 under which some drug offences previously punishable by the death penalty were now subject to a prison term, but said that the mandatory death sentence has been retained for a wide range of drug-related offences.

Also in the release, the High Commissioner noted that there had been some “partial” improvements in relation to other aspects of the application of the death penalty in Iran, most notably a bill amending the drug-trafficking law that was approved by the Guardian Council in October 2017. As a result of the amendment, some drug offences that were previously punishable by the death penalty are now subject to a prison term, although the mandatory death sentence is retained for a wide range of drug-related offences.

According to OHCHR, the amendment provides for retroactive applicability, which means that all people currently on death row for drug-related offences which are no longer punishable by the death penalty should see their sentence commuted.

In this context, Zeid urged Iran to swiftly establish the modalities for the review of all individual cases sentenced to death under the drug-trafficking law, following the principles of transparency, due process and to ensure effective legal representation of all those sentenced.