Press briefing notes on Iraq / Death penalty, Tunisia , Visit to Poland / Auschwitz and Launch of new website

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights : Rupert Colville Location: Geneva
Date: 11 October 2013

(1) Iraq / death penalty

Over the past two days (9-10 October), the Iraqi authorities have executed at least 42 individuals, including one woman, on terrorism charges. The UN 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.” 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. They are also undermining efforts to build a more stable, less violent society in Iraq. The mass execution carried out over the past two days is particularly perverse given that yesterday was World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The Government of Iraq maintains that it only executes individuals who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes against civilians, and have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005. In our view, the claim that using the death penalty can help deter terrorism is clearly exposed as a fallacy, given the soaring casualty rate in Iraq, which has occurred over roughly the same period as the dramatic and shocking increase in the use of the death penalty.

Figures compiled by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq Human Rights Office reveal a sharp rise in civilian casualties in the country this year. At least 5,740 civilians were killed from January to September this year. This is more than double the number of civilian casualties in 2011 and already much higher than the 3,238 civilians killed in the whole of 2012 – which was itself the highest number in a single year since 2008.

The number of people being executed in Iraq has risen from 18 in 2010 to 67 in 2011, 123 in 2012 and 140 so far this year, with almost a quarter of the year still to go.
We call on the Government of Iraq to halt all executions immediately, and to review and commute the sentences of the hundreds of other people who are believed to be on death row in Iraq.

(2) Tunisia

We very much welcome the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia’s unanimous adoption on Wednesday (October 9) of a law establishing a national body to prevent torture, which marks a significant step forward towards eradicating torture in the country.

Tunisia is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to create such a national preventive mechanism, after ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which provides for the creation of such a preventive mechanism against torture in each State Party. Tunisia ratified this important international treaty in June 2011.

The National Body to Prevent Torture is an independent body with a broad jurisdiction, including the power to visit all places of detention. It should become operational as soon as the law is published, and ensure the respect and implementation of procedural safeguards for those deprived of their liberty.

The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the biggest UN Committee and the only one with a visiting mandate, will provide assistance and advice to this newly-established body. Under the Optional Protocol, the Subcommittee not only plays an advisory role, but also has unrestricted access to all places of detention in States that have ratified the Protocol. Its experts visit police stations, prisons, detention centres, mental health and social care institutions and other places where people are, or may be, deprived of their liberty.

Our Office in Tunisia, which was established two years ago in the wake of the revolution, has played an important role in the establishment of this national body through debates and consultations that brought together governmental actors, including the Tunisian Ministry for Human Rights and Transitional Justice, and key non-governmental actors, including national and international civil society organisations.

The adoption of this law is an important milestone during the ongoing transition in Tunisia, and in particular in the effort to bring the country in line with international rule of law and human rights norms and standards.

(3) Poland / Visit to Auschwitz

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will be visiting Auschwitz on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to Poland. There will be more details in a media advisory later today.

(4) Launch of new website for 20th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Office

As part of the activities to celebrate our 20th Anniversary, the UN Human Rights Office is today launching a special website, which includes an interactive timeline of key events in the human rights field over the past 20 years.

The website features background information about the World Vienna Conference in 1993 and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which called for the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also provides information on special events planned all over the world to celebrate the 20th Anniversary and Human Rights Day 2013, and offers easy access to a range of tools and promotional material.

Other features include a list of 20 major human rights achievements, videos, messages and feature stories, as well as the interactive timeline that starts with the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on 25 June 1993 and describes 64 major human rights milestones in the 20 years since then in an easy-to-read format. Each key event is illustrated by audio visual material, feature stories or media content related to that specific issue. This list is not exhaustive but attempts to put focus on some of the most significant achievements in the field of human rights over the course of the past two decades.

The webpage is available at:
The timeline is available at


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 /, Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / )

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