IRAQ: AT LEAST 169 PEOPLE PUT TO DEATH IN 2013
December 31, 2013: at least 169 people were put to death in 2013, by far the country's highest such figure since the 2003 US-led invasion, and one that puts it third in the world, behind just China and Iran.
Iraqi officials insist capital punishment is both sanctioned by Islam and an effective way to curb violence, despite the fact that this year's executions have had no visible impact on the worst protracted surge in bloodshed since 2008.
"What is more disturbing than the fact of the use of the death penalty itself ... is the fact that the utter dysfunction of the criminal justice system means that there is a very high likelihood that the people who are being executed are innocent," said Erin Evers, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Those sentenced to death are usually hanged, often in groups. Seven people were put to death in December, bringing the overall number for 2013 to 169, according to an AFP tally. A total of 129 people were executed in 2012.
The rise in executions in 2013 came as Iraq grapples with its worst prolonged period of violence since it emerged from brutal sectarian fighting that peaked in 2006-2007 and left tens of thousands dead.
And with elections coming up in April and a litany of concerns facing voters, from poor services to high unemployment, politicians will likely seek to focus attention elsewhere while ministers wanting to project toughness could even up the pace of executions.
"Executions seem to be a popular way to appear strong," said Ahmed Ali, an Iraq research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. "If it (an increase in executions) does happen, I don't think a lot of people will be upset about it." (Sources: AFP, 31/12/2013)