Execution of Child Offenders by Iran: a clear case of Human Rights Violation
NAME: Ayushi Chandra
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International customary law prohibits death penalty to juveniles who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. It comes from the idea that children are immature and are unaware of the consequences of their actions and should therefore get the benefit of getting lesser grave punishment than the adults. A peremptory norm of International Law ‘jus cogens’, is a fundamental and overriding principle which is also known as ‘compelling law’, which is binding on all states whether or not they are parties to international treaties. International Law strongly condemns execution of child offenders. Iran is one of the last countries which allows death penalty to offenders who were under the age of 18 years when they committed the crime and hence violating its international obligations.
Despite being a part of several international treaties, Iran has executed almost twice the number of juvenile offenders in the last 30 years than any other country, some as young as 12 years. A recent case from Iran is of a man who was 16 at the time of the commencement of crime, in the year 2007. There are credible allegations that his confessions were extracted through force and torture, he was blatantly beaten up with batons, was denied access to medical treatment and a lawyer; and later was put into solitary confinement without even letting him meet his family which raises major concerns about violation of his fair trial rights.
It was Iran’s fourth confirmed execution of a child offender. Between 1990 and 2018, Iran has executed 97 child offenders who were under the age of 18 and there are at least 84 more children who are currently sitting on death row. In recent years, Iran has waited for a child to turn 18 and then execute them, claiming that they were no longer a child. Iran executes more children than any other country. According to Iran’s Penal Code, maturity age for boys is 15 years and for girls is 9 years, while international law strictly prohibits execution of any person who is under the age of 18.
An amendment made in Iran’s Penal Code in 2013, prohibits execution of child offenders for certain categories of crimes including drug-related offences and would be sent to correctional and rehabilitation programs.
The act also allowed the judges to use their discretion in giving capital punishment and not issue death sentence to a child who was not able comprehend the nature of the crime, the act also suggested to rely on the opinion of forensic reports and doctors to establish whether the child understood the outcome of the crime. Iranian courts however continue to give death penalty to children even after these amendments became law.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are in absolute prohibition of death penalty being given to children, Iran is party to both these treaties and is obliged to abide by them; also, it is a well-established principle of juvenile justice system. The government has however not taken a firm stance against such death sentences.
A neuro-scientific research stated that juveniles who are of the age 16 and 17, are different and in all respects less culpable than the adults who commit the same crime, therefore should be catered to proper care, protection and treatment.
The Iranian justice system has demonstrated needless cruelty and is a flagrant assault on children’s rights. Many Human Rights Organizations have urged Iran to amend its Penal Code and bring its legislation into line with the international conventions and impose absolute prohibition on the death penalty for child offenders. It is long overdue for Iranian government to put an end to this appalling situation, until then Iran courts should use the legal authority they have and stop sending juveniles for execution to the state.
In longer terms, Iran should respect the law and the state party should take necessary steps to halt and abolish this practice of child prosecution by bringing new laws and building a robust infrastructure consisting of Iranian officials and non-governmental organizations. The state must uphold the duty of care and protection as they are their own citizens. Otherwise, the justice system of Iran will continue to exploit the already vulnerable group.