The use of the death penalty is a contentious issue that continues to divide opinions across the world. While some argue that it is necessary to deter the most heinous crimes, others maintain that it is a cruel and inhumane punishment that has no place in modern society.
Recently, a cross-regional group of countries has expressed deep concern over the use of the death penalty in Iran. According to reports, several hundred people were executed in Iran between 2022 and 2023, including juvenile offenders. This raises serious questions about Iran’s compliance with international human rights law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Under the ICCPR, countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty can only apply it for offenses that amount to ‘the most serious crimes’, and only after observing the procedural guarantees prescribed in the Covenant. These include the right to a fair hearing by an independent tribunal, the presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer and other minimum guarantees for the defense, and the right to review by a higher tribunal.
The group is especially alarmed due to the types of offenses for which Iran has imposed the death penalty, the haste of the trials, the lack of transparency, and reports that defendants were not granted access to their preferred lawyers and were subjected to torture or other cruel treatment. Additionally, Iran has handed down or sought to impose death sentences against dozens of individuals arrested in connection with their participation in protests following the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini.
The group has called on Iran to respect the lives and voices of its people, to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, and to halt all executions. The death penalty must not be instrumentalized by any state to punish individuals participating in protests and to strike fear into the population with the aim of chilling dissent.
The group has also urged Iran to cooperate with all UN human rights mechanisms, including the Council’s Fact-Finding Mission. The international community has a responsibility to uphold human rights and protect the most vulnerable in society. The use of the death penalty must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that it is not being used as a tool of oppression or to silence political opposition. We call on all countries to respect the rights of their citizens and to work towards the abolition of the death penalty.