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Iran has come under fire many a times for their blatant disregard for international law concerning the prohibition of the execution of juvenile offenders. Iran ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly proscribes the capital punishment of persons that have committed crimes while they were minors. In 2013, the retrials of cases involving juveniles that had been sentenced to death were allowed through an amendment of the country’s Islamic Penal Code. However, those that sought redress through these ‘trials’ bore no fruit as the Supreme Court would sentence the Appellants to death once again after retrials.
In May 2017, Amnesty International reported that Iran executed a man who the state identified as ‘Asqar’ on May 23rd 2017. Asqar had been sentenced to death 30 years prior for allegedly stabbing his 12 year old neighbour at the age of 16. This audacious disregard for human rights and the country’s treaty obligations were decried by the international community. Further, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa stated that, “with this execution, the Iranian authorities’ repeated claims to the UN and EU that they are moving away from the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders ring horrifically hollow. It is absolutely appalling that two decades after it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran continues to display such a chilling disregard for children’s rights,” as per Amnesty International’s report on Asqar’s execution.
Asqar is one of 3 men that have been executed this year for crimes they committed when they were children. The UN has also urged Iran to respect international law and cease these deplorable killings, however this has done nothing as hundreds of such Iranian’s currently remain on death row. What is most disconcerting about these executions is the uncertainty regarding the ‘offenders’ guilt. It is not uncommon for Iranian law enforcement officers to use torture and degrading treatment to extract confessions from children, who are vulnerable naive and afraid enough to give in to these adults’ demands for the avoidance of pain, punishment and conflict.
Human Rights Watch also called on Iran to remove the discretion of a judge to decide whether a juvenile offender should be sentenced to death or not from its proposed laws on Juvenile Courts in 2007. However, as is evident from the State’s practice regarding the retrials of juvenile offenders on death row, heeding the advice of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and those of its kind is not Iran’s prerogative.
Iran is currently the leading country carrying out these violations which is a worrying trend given the lack of dependence of the judiciary and the arbitrary actions of law enforcement officers, which compromises the evidence that is then used to convict these juvenile offenders. Iran should mirror developments made by certain countries such as South Sudan which amended its laws, consequently setting the age of majority at 18 years old. Such actions are no doubt a step in the right direction as well as the revision of the sentencing criteria for children. Iran has an international obligation of which it has failed to adhere to. The international community must do more than just decry this injustice and act strongly to protect the rights of these children.