Will the world ignore Iran’s execution binge?

According to human rights groups, there have been over 250 executions carried out in the first four months 2014.

17-year-old Iranian just as he was about to be executed (photo credit: IRANIAN MEDIA)
17-year-old Iranian just as he was about to be executed
(photo credit: IRANIAN MEDIA)
Despite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s repeated calls for “moderation” and “respect for human rights in his country,” executions in Iran continue at an alarming rate.
According to organizations such as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and Iran Human Rights, both of which track execution – and extrapolating from their data – there have been over 250 executions carried out in the first four months 2014.
Indeed, there were 10 executions reported in the first five days of May alone.
Ironically enough, it was Mohammad-Javad Larijani – head of the Iranian judiciary’s Human Rights Council – who unwittingly highlighted these heinous crimes by declaring that the international community should be “grateful” to Iran for the “great service to humanity” that it provides in carrying out these executions. However, Larijani lamented that “instead of celebrating Iran, international organizations see the increased number of executions caused by Iran’s assertive confrontation with drugs as a vehicle for human rights attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
But the horrific reality of executions in Iran deserves international condemnation – not celebration – while Larijani’s absurd defense of his country’s record is in blatant contravention of international law, and even Iranian law.
First, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights – to which Iran is a States Party – provides that a “sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.” Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has affirmed that executions for drug-related offenses – which Larijani seeks to justify and even celebrate – do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” to which the death penalty might be lawfully applied. Moreover, a not insignificant number of the 687 people executed in 2013 – the largest number executed in a single year since the early Nineties – were convicted of other than drug-related offenses.
Second, for example, the revised Islamic Penal Code of 2013 continues to impose the death penalty for a litany of other crimes that do not meet the “most serious crimes” standard under international law, including not only drug-trafficking but also sexual relations outside marriage, “apostasy,” and other vaguely worded political crimes such as “enmity against God.”
Finally, death sentences in Iran are frequently carried out following legal proceedings that do not meet basic fair trial standards under international law, including the use of forced confessions, the denial of a fair hearing, or the denial of any hearing at all.
Accordingly, it is not surprising that the most recent US State Department Annual Human Rights Report for Iran documents some of the “most egregious atrocities in recent memory” in 2013.
Indeed, it refers, in particular, to the Iranian execution binge of 2013 alone, many arising from trials that, as the Report put it, “did not adhere to basic principles of due process.” Despite President Rouhani’s talk of “moderation” and “respect for human rights,” there were some 100 executions in the first month following his June 14 election, a reported 30 executions during his two-week “charm offensive” at the United Nations in September, and at least 600 executions since Rouhani officially assumed the presidency in August.
Accordingly, Dr. Shaheed, along with the UN special rapporteur on summary executions, Christof Heyns, have called on the government of Iran to “urgently halt the abrupt surge in hangings in the country since the start of 2014.” Nonetheless, despite this surge in executions, the international community seems distracted, if not deceived, by Rouhani’s continuing “charm offensive” and the promise of nuclear détente.
Today, close to a year since Rouhani’s election in June 2013, the systematic and widespread violations of human rights under Rouhani – dramatized by the judicial killing spree – continue unabated, including: the systematic targeting of ethnic and religious minorities – particularly Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs and the Baha’i; the imprisonment, torture and murder of political dissidents, human rights activists, and the lawyers who would defend them; the increasing assault on labor rights; the continuing crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly and association; and the accelerating criminalization of innocents and arbitrary executions – the whole constitutive of crimes against humanity under international law.
Moreover, there is evidence that this most recent “judicial killing spree” has been organized and implemented at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, with reports that Rouhani, for example, personally approved executions for 14 human rights activists, yet another example of the massive domestic repression that continues even under Rouhani’s “moderate” administration.
As well, it is not uncommon for the execution of members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities – particularly political activists and human rights defenders – to be carried out in secret, and for the families to be notified only after the fact, such that the execution rate is likely to be even higher than reported. Indeed, in the annual report on the death penalty by Iran Human Rights, there were at least 299 executions in 21 different prisons that were either not officially announced or were carried out secretly in 2013.
Rouhani’s talk of freedom and reconciliation is a welcome change from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s frequently incendiary rhetoric and incitement. It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that Rouhani’s actions reflect his words – a far cry from the tragic human rights reality of the Iranian people. As Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of IHR put it: “It is a paradox that the relations between Iran and the international community are improving while the number of the executions in Iran increases.”
The author is a Member of the Canadian Parliament, emeritus professor of law (McGill University) and the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He is co-Chair with Senator Mark Kirk of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and a member of the Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.