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Iran: UN Calls for Halt of Executions

(Oct. 16, 2012) On October 12, 2012, three U.N.Special Rapporteurs, Ahmed Shaheed, Christof Heyns, and Juan E. Méndez, whose focus is on Iran, extrajudicial executions, and torture, respectively, called on Iran to halt all executions. They particularly condemned the 11 executions scheduled for October 13. (Press Release, U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Iran: UN Special Rapporteurs Call for the Immediate Halt of Executions, Including Eleven Scheduled for Tomorrow (Oct. 13, 2012).) News reports have stated that it is unclear whether or not those executions took place. (Afghan Rights Group Urges Action on Executionsof Refugees in Iran, BBC WORLDWIDE MONITORING (Oct. 13, 2012), LEXIS/NEXIS online subscription database.

The Iranian press reacted to the criticism, calling it unfair. A commentary from Mohammad Hosseyn Jafarian that appeared in the newspaper Javan, under the title Judiciary System Should Not Surrender Against Such Pressures, called the U.N. statement an attack by Western media “on the pretext of World Day Against the Death Penalty,” and went on to say that the executions were part of Iran’s efforts to fight drug trafficking and should not be condemned. (Quotes from Iranian Press, BBC WORLDWIDE Monitoring (Oct 13, 2012), LEXIS/NEXIS online subscription database.)

One of the prisoners scheduled for execution on October 13 is Saeed Sedeghi, who was in fact sentenced for narcotics offenses. Questions have been raised about whether or not he received a fair trial. The U.N. Rapporteurs stressed that aspect of recent cases and rejected the idea of imposing the death penalty for drug crimes, stating:

Any death sentence must comply with international obligations related to the stringent respect of fair trial and due process guarantees, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a State party. … In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death can be imposed only for the most serious crimes, which do not include drug crimes. Cases that do not meet these standards are tantamount to arbitrary executions. (Press Release, supra.)

Iran has been widely criticized before for its use of the death penalty. Amnesty International has frequently issued statements on the subject, including in January 2010, when the organization expressed concern that the execution of two protesters for the crimes of “enmity against God” and for being members of a banned anti-regime group was the start of a new wave of executions. (“Shocking” Execution of Iran Protesters Condemned, Amnesty International website (Jan. 28, 2010).)

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran claimed in January 2011 that Iran was on an “execution binge.” (Michael Haggerson, UN: Iran Must Halt Capital Punishment, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 12, 2012).) That organization describes its mission as “to gather support for Iranian human rights activists and defenders who are advocating for their civil, political, social, and economic rights within the framework of international treaties and standards that define Iran’s obligations.” (About, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran website (last visited Oct. 15, 2012).)

United Nations workers have previously rebuked Iran for its imposition of the death penalty. In June 2012, U.N. Special Rapporteurs criticized the executions of four members of the Ahwazi Arab minority population, also citing fair trial issues as well as the lack of transparency in the judicial system. (Haggerson, supra.)

The Afghanistan Civil Society for Human Rights has also pressed for an end to the use of capital punishment in Iran, pointing particularly to the executions of Afghan refugees in Iran. The group calls the reported plan by Iran to execute those refugees “a massacre in violation of the international principles.” (Afghan Rights Group Urges Action on Executions of Refugees in Iran,supra.)

The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) claims that the number of executions announced by the Iranian government well understates the actual number and that the real figure is difficult to determine. The Center estimates that in 2011 there were actually 660 executions, while the official figure is only 347. The IHRDC is an independent, non-profit organization, founded by human rights advocates and lawyers in 2004. (IHRDC Chart of Executions by the Islamic Republic of Iran – 2011, IHRDC website (May 7, 2012); Mission, IHRDC website (last visited Oct. 10, 2012).)