Human rights group exposes surge in secret executions in Iraq

These executions took place at the Nasiriyah prison in southern Iraq, locally known as (Al-Hout), with the observatory warning against the increasing frequency of executions. [Getty]

A recent report from an Iraqi human rights observatory uncovered a disturbing trend of secret executions in Iraq.

Over the past few weeks, authorities have reportedly carried out dozens of death sentences without announcing it publicly, and therefore raises concerns about transparency and integrity of due process in the Iraqi justice system.

Afad, an independent observatory dedicated to monitoring human rights abuses in Iraq, said in a statement that it has documented 63 cases of executions that were not publicly announced by Iraqi authorities. According to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, secret executions are banned, and signing execution decrees is an exclusive power of the Iraqi president.  

These executions took place at the Nasiriyah prison in southern Iraq, locally known as (Al-Hout), with the observatory warning against the increasing frequency of executions, particularly targeting individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges.

Iraqi authorities executed at least 11 people convicted of “terrorism”, security and health sources said last month, with rights group Amnesty International condemning an “alarming lack of transparency”.

According to the report, detainees within Nasiriyah prison provided testimonies claiming that executions accelerated under the direction of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani. The observatory highlights instances where individuals executed had lodged complaints asserting innocence or alleging that confessions were extracted under torture. Despite international calls for a review of Iraq’s death penalty system, the government persisted in the practice of executions.

Salah al-Din Governorate emerged with the highest number of executions, with over 32 individuals put to death, including elderly and long-incarcerated prisoners. The report also details instances of torture and coercion in obtaining confessions, as well as the emotional toll on families who are often denied proper mourning rituals and forced to pay exorbitant fees for the return of their loved ones’ bodies.

The observatory pointed fingers at Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, holding him accountable for signing off on execution orders and perpetuating what they deem as “a miscarriage of justice”.

The observatory for international intervention to halt these executions, which continue unabated and without prior notification to families.

Executions are being carried out without official announcement, with families informed by phone to collect the bodies from the forensic department in Nasiriyah. Relatives are coerced into signing commitments to silence and denied traditional mourning practices, representing grave human rights violations, the observatory added. 

The New Arab has contacted Basim al-Awadi, the spokesperson of Iraq’s prime minister, as well as Khalid Shwani, Iraq’s justice minister, but they were not immediately available to comment. Iraq’s presidency has yet to announce any formal stance on the accusations. 

Hemn Bajalan, a lawyer and former member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), conveyed to TNA during a phone interview, “Statements issued here and there cannot be treated as a trustworthy figure for executions in Iraq.”

He emphasised the importance of fact-checking the allegations of secret executions claimed by Afad Observatory, expressing doubts about their veracity. Bajalan asserted that only formal statements from Iraq’s Ministry of Justice, Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, and the United Nations should be relied upon.

The Nasiriyah prison, known for its overcrowding and notorious reputation, has become emblematic of the human rights challenges facing Iraq. Despite promises of legal reforms, including a general amnesty law, by Sunni Arab forces during recent elections, progress has been hindered by political obstacles.

According to Iraq’s constitution, Bajalan explained, the Iraqi president should sign presidential decrees for all execution verdicts after the justice ministry forwards the final court decisions. He emphasised that secret executions are inconsistent with Iraq’s constitution and laws, outlining detailed regulations on fulfilling capital punishments.

As Iraq grapples with ongoing security challenges and political instability, the plight of thousands of prisoners, particularly those facing death sentences, remains a pressing concern.

The call for justice and transparency in Iraq‘s legal system grows louder amid reports of secret executions and alleged human rights abuses.

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