BAGHDAD The United Nations criticized an Iraqi official on Friday for calling for a group of prisoners to be executed before they have gone to trial, saying that such remarks undermined Iraq's judicial process.
Last week, Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said that 39 al Qaeda militants arrested by security forces should be executed without delay.
Francesco Motta, head of the United Nations Human Rights office in Iraq, said such statements undermined justice.
"We would call upon all Iraqi officials to refrain from commenting on cases that are before the courts before the verdict has been delivered because such comments can undermine the judicial process and prejudice the fair trial of accused persons," Motta said after a ceremony at the U.N. compound in Baghdad to celebrate International Human Rights Day.
Bolani's comments were condemned by rights group Amnesty International, which urged Iraq's government to ensure detainees are given fair trials that meet international standards. Both the United Nations and Amnesty oppose the death penalty.
"What chance can there be for any defendant to receive a fair trial if so senior a government minister shows such contempt for the rule of law?" Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
"It makes a complete mockery of any suggestion that these suspects will receive a fair trial, and sets a most ominous precedent for others."
Western powers have called on Iraq to improve its human rights record by investigating allegations of torture and abuse in prisons, halting honor killings of women and abolishing the death penalty.
Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael said Iraq was committed to following the law.
"No one will face the death penalty or be executed without a trial. That will not happen, never in Iraq," she said after the U.N. Human Rights day ceremony. "They will go through all the procedures of the law, through the courts."
(Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed; Editing by Maria Golovnina)