Press briefing notes on Iraq and Guatemala

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 19 April 2013
1) Iraq / Death penalty
2) Guatemala / Rios Montt trial

1) Iraq / Death penalty

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is today issuing a press release condemning the execution of 21 individuals in Iraq earlier in the week, which brought the total to 33 in the past month. She is also deploring reports that the Ministry of Justice has announced that a further 150 people may be executed in the coming days.

In her view, the justice system in the country is too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time.

Numerous convictions are still believed to be based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards. The application of the death penalty in these circumstances is unconscionable, as any miscarriage of justice as a result of capital punishment cannot be undone.

A total of 1,400 people are believed to be currently on death row in Iraq, and 129 people were executed in 2012 alone.

The High Commissioner is also deeply concerned at Iraq’s lack of compliance with its international human rights obligations in relation to the imposition of the death penalty, in particular under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq has been a State Party for more than 40 years.

The High Commissioner is emphasizing the need for transparency and stringent respect of due process. She is calling on the Government to halt executions, conduct a credible and independent review of all death row cases and disclose information on the number and identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings brought against them, and the outcome of the review of their cases.

The High Commissioner is also questioning why the presidential authority to pardon or commute death sentences (granted by article 286 of the Criminal Procedure Code) is hardly ever exercised.

One part of Iraq – the Kurdistan Region – is already upholding an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, and the High Commissioner is urging the central Government to follow suit.
More details and quotes by the High Commissioner can be found in the full news release entitled“Pillay condemns rampant use of death penalty in Iraq” at

2) Guatemala / Rios Montt trial

We are concerned at the suspension of the trial of former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt, and former head of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. The suspension was ordered by a different Guatemalan court to the one hearing the trial. This is a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war, who have been waiting more than 30 years for justice to be done and for remedies; as well as to the courageous lawyers, judges and prosecutors who have struggled for decades to see it is done. The trial gave victims the opportunity for the very first time to testify in the same room as the high-ranking officers accused of ordering the burning of villages, and the rape and the execution of more than 1,770 Ixil Maya Indians in 1982 and 1983. The occurrence of this major setback a few days before the expected judgement is a real slap in the face to the many indigenous women and men who have courageously participated as witnesses in the public hearings.

We reiterate the High Commissioner’s 18 March call to the authorities to uphold their responsibility to guarantee a fair and independent trial, in accordance with due process guarantees, including by taking all necessary measures to guarantee that judges and other judicial personnel can carry out their duties free from threats, reprisals or undue inducements.

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 93 10 /

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