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Iran: Criticism of Use of Death Penalty

(Nov. 24, 2009) An Iranian boy, Behnoud Shojaie, was executed in Iran on October 11, 2009, after being convicted of the murder of another boy in a street fight; both participants were just 17 years old. The Iranian judiciary had recently encouraged families of victims to reach private settlements, as permitted under Islamic law. In Shojaie's case, the former head of the judiciary had suspended the death sentence in the hope that the victim's family would pardon the defendant. (Press Release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Human Rights Chief Criticizes Latest Execution of Juvenile Offender in Iran (Oct. 13, 2009), available at [choose “by country” in left-hand column, then “Iran”].)

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for changes to Iranian laws to end the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Iran is now considering draft legislation on juvenile justice; Pillay has pointed out that this represents an opportunity to end capital punishment for juveniles and a chance to honor international commitments. (UN Rights Chief Speaks Out Against Use of Death Penalty in Iran, UN NEWS CENTRE, Oct. 13, 2009, available at The execution, Pillay said, “shows there are no guarantees of clemency for juveniles until Iran changes its law and practice to end execution of juvenile offenders once and for all.” She added that it is “the State's responsibility to stop these executions, not a family's prerogative” and that international law calls for the death penalty to be used only for the most serious crimes, after fair trials. (Id.)

Iran is a party to international agreements that prohibit the use of the death penalty for minors, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, in on force Mar. 23, 1976, University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, (last visited Nov. 16, 2009); Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res.44/25, Nov. 20, 1989, in force on Sept. 2, 1990, Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights website, (last visited Nov. 16, 2009).)

The High Commissioner also commented on the death sentences given to three participants in the post-election demonstrations in Iran earlier this year, expressing her concern. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)