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U.N. rights chief shocked at numerous Iraq executions

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top United Nations human rights official criticized Iraq on Tuesday for carrying out a large number of executions, including 34 on a single day last week, and voiced concern about due process and the fairness of trials.

“Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, in a statement referring to executions carried out on January 19.

“Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure,” she added.

At least 63 people are believed to have been executed since mid-November in Iraq, where the death penalty can be imposed for some 48 crimes including a number related to non-fatal crimes such as damage to public property, Pillay said.

“Most disturbingly, we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress,” she said.

Iraq executed 12 people on November 24 for their involvement in the 2006 killing of 70 people at a wedding in central Iraq, the justice ministry said.

“Carrying out this execution against such bold criminals is deemed a deterrent that could prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future,” Major General Hamid al-Moussawi, a senior justice ministry official, said at the time.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, called on the Iraqi government to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, saying some 150 countries had either abolished it or introduced a moratorium.

Iraq should “halt all executions and, and a matter of urgency, review the cases of those individuals currently on death row,” she said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tim Pearce