May 29, 2017
GENEVA – Iran must abide by its obligations under international human rights law and stop carrying out death sentences passed on persons who committed offenses when children, say a group of United Nations rights experts* calling for an immediate halt to the execution of two persons, who were sentenced when they were both under 18.
“We are dismayed by the unprecedented rise in the number of cases of execution of juvenile offenders in Iran,” the experts said. “The psychological suffering inflicted on adolescents kept languishing for years in prison under a death sentence is appalling, and amounts to torture and ill treatment.”
“These executions must be halted immediately and the death sentences quashed. We also call on Iran to commute without delay all such sentences imposed on children,” they stressed.
One of the two persons, Mehdi Bohlouli was 17 years old when he was sentenced to death in 2001 by a court in Tehran, for the fatal stabbing of a man during a fight. His execution had been scheduled to take place on 19 April, some 15 years after his conviction, but was halted just a few hours earlier. It is not yet clear if or when the sentence will now be carried out.
The other person, Peyman Barandah, was 15 when he was sentenced to death in 2012, also for the fatal stabbing of a teenager. His execution has been scheduled for 10 May. There is no word about a possible reprieve.
“These two cases bring the total of juvenile offenders scheduled for execution that we have become aware of in Iran since January to six. They include the cases of two young persons whose executions was carried out,” the experts noted.
They express concern that the cases may be only the tip of the iceberg: “Taking into account that at least 90 people were on death row at the beginning of April for crimes committed under the age of 18, the exact number of those executed or at risk of execution is likely to be much higher.”
In 2013, Iran amended its Islamic Penal Code and opened the possibility of juveniles sentenced to death to be allowed retrials. Later, assurances were given in 2016 by Iran to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that this amendment would apply systematically for all juveniles who are currently on death row.
“These promises have not been fulfilled: Some of the young men executed recently were not even aware of the possibility of retrials, and the requests made by Mehdi Bohlouli and Peyman Barandah for retrial were simply rejected by the Supreme Court,” said the experts, adding that in numerous other cases, like that of Hamid Ahmadi and Sajad Sanjari, the courts had simply sentenced juvenile offenders to death again after retrials.
“The unprecedented rise in capital punishment for offences committed while below age of 18 in Iran constitutes conclusive proof of the failure of the 2013 amendments to stop the execution of individuals sentenced to death as children,” the experts emphasized.
The reason for the failure, they said, lies within the amendments themselves, which allow judges to pronounce alternative sentences after retrial only if they assess that a child was not mature enough or did not sufficiently understand the nature of the crime.
However, the experts pointed out that by ratifying both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran has committed itself to protecting and respecting children’s right to life as well as to outlaw the death penalty for all those under the age of 18.
“Any assumption that a girl over nine years old or a boy older than 15 can be considered mature enough to be sentenced to death, infringes on the very basic principles of juvenile justice and violates both treaties,” the experts stressed.
“Furthermore, any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a Government’s international obligations, notably its duty to establish a juvenile justice system in line with international human rights standards, is unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution,” they concluded.
(*) The experts: Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Mr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties. It also monitors the Optional Protocols to the Convention, on involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; as well as a third Optional Protocol which will allow individual children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights.