U.N. urges Iraq to halt executions seen breaching international law

GENEVA Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:28am EDT

A United Nations logo and flag are seen during the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

A United Nations logo and flag are seen during the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York September 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations called on Iraq on Friday to halt all executions after 42 people were hanged this week in what it said were most probably illegal mass executions ordered by Baghdad's "seriously flawed" justice system.

They were executed for mass killings and other offences on Wednesday and Thursday - which was World Day against the Death Penalty.

The world body called on Iraq to stop the executions and commute the sentences of the hundreds of other people believed to be on death row.

"Large-scale executions of the sort that have been carried out on a number of occasions over the past two years in Iraq are not only obscene and inhuman, they are most probably in contravention of international law," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

International human rights law requires that defendants be given fair trials and that confessions are not obtained under torture, he said. The death penalty should only be handed down for the most serious crimes such as murder.

"U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has repeatedly stressed after earlier mass executions in 2012 and 2013 that the justice system in Iraq is too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time," Colville said.

Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimary said on Thursday that those executed had committed terrorist crimes that led to the deaths of dozens of innocent citizens, "as well as other crimes aimed at destabilizing the security and stability of the country".

More than 6,000 people have been killed in attacks across Iraq so far this year, as a Sunni Islamist insurgency that includes attacks by al Qaeda gains momentum.

So far this year, 140 people have been executed in Iraq, against 123 in all of 2012, he added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams)

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