September 25, 2007

West Balochistan: Amnesty’s Scathing Report

Amnesty International has released a report on the human rights situation in West Balochistan, with a particular focus on the state of the Iranian legal system and the unusually high level of executions.

Amnesty International has released a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in West Balochistan in Iran, with a particular focus on the state of the legal system and the unusually high level of executions

Below are extracts of the report published by Amnesty International on 17 September 2007:

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4. Human rights violations against Baluchis

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A number of Baluchis, including Sunni clerics, have been killed in suspicious circumstances both in Iran and abroad. Similar suspicious deaths of members of other religious minorities or of those opposed to the Iranian authorities point to a pattern of extrajudicial executions by the Iranian authorities(69). […] Molavi Ahmad Sayyad, a Sunni leader of Baluchi origin, died in unclear circumstances after being arrested by Iranian security forces at Bandar Abbas airport in January 1997 on his return from the United Arab Emirates. His body was found outside the city five days later. He had previously been arrested in 1990 and apparently detained without trial for five years on account of his religious beliefs and perceived close relationship with Saudi Arabia.

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4.1 Military response

For many years, the east of the country has had a heavy military presence. A small force known as Mersad (Ambush), which has reportedly been based in Kerman province since 1995 to counter drug-smuggling, was expanded into a joint operational unit of various security forces with a base near Zahedan. Baluchi sources allege that this unit has a remit to maintain security by instilling fear in the local community and is thus empowered to commit serious human rights violations, such as unlawful killings and torture, with impunity. In 1998 the commander of the Mersad garrison reportedly said, “"We have not been given orders to arrest and hand over those who carry weapons. On the basis of a directive we have received, we will execute any bandits, wherever we capture them.”"(76)

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4.2 Judicial response

In May 2006, Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Mohammad Ebrahim Nekunam, a judge who was the Prosecutor for the Special Court for the Clergy before being appointed Deputy Prosecutor-General, was appointed adviser to the Chairman of the Judiciary and the Managing Director of the Administration of Justice of Sistan-Baluchistan province.(82) The same month Brigadier-General Qasem Reza’i announced that a special court was being established in the east of the country.

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Amnesty International has no other information about this court or the procedures under which it operates. It is unclear whether the court operates as a branch of the Revolutionary Court and is thus governed by the General and Revolutionary Court procedures, or whether it is a special court operating outside that framework, such as a military or other extraordinary court. The organization wrote to the Head of the Judiciary in July 2007 seeking further information, including clarifications regarding the court’s mandate, procedures and composition, including any process of appeal and sought statistics about the operation of this court since its establishment, such as the number of cases which have been brought before it, types of cases and the charges, the number of people convicted by it, the number of people sentenced to death by it, and the number executed following convictions in this court. Amnesty International had received no response by August 2007. The establishment of this court also coincides with a marked rise in the number of Baluchis reported executed in Iran.

Amnesty International is concerned that procedures before this court, like those before other courts in Iran such as the Special Court for the Clergy, fall far short of international standards relating to fair trial, such as those laid down in the ICCPR, to which Iran is a state party. The scanty information available about the trials of some Baluchis who have been arrested, tried and executed in a matter of days, and the large numbers of Baluchis who have been executed since the establishment of the court in May 2006, along with Hojjatoleslam Nekunam’s statements regarding the necessity for speedy implementation of sentences, seemingly without regard to the right of appeal, and the need to solve “"system blockages”" give rise to serious concerns that fair trial procedures are being flouted in the special court for security offences. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the unfairness of procedures before that court, given that the death penalty is a possible sentence and carries with it particular international obligations regarding fair trial rights of accused persons. Any death sentence carried out after an unfair trial amounts to arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.

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4.4 The death penalty

Death sentences have been reported for many years in Baluchi areas, imposed mainly for drug-smuggling and armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping. However, in 2006, the numbers of Baluchis executed, mainly on these charges, rose dramatically.

In 2005, Amnesty International recorded six executions of people considered likely to have been Baluchis, out of a total of 94 executions recorded across Iran. In January and February 2006 […] Amnesty International recorded four executions of men who were or may have been Baluchis. Executions of Baluchis began to rise in May, after the appointment of Hojjatoleslam Ebrahim Nekunam to the provincial judiciary and after the establishment of the “"Special Court for security offences”" (see section 4.2 above). By the end of 2006, at least 32 and possibly more than 50 Baluchis had reportedly been executed. Those whose ethnicity was not identified, but who may have been Baluchis, were executed in areas with a significant Baluchi population, mostly on charges of drug-smuggling, armed banditry and kidnapping. In any event, the true numbers of those executed is likely to have been much higher.

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By August 2007, Amnesty International had received reports of the execution of up to 50 Baluchis, out of a total of 166 executions across the country since the beginning of the year, all but one of which took place after the February bus bombing. Baluchi sources say that the Iranian authorities have begun taking Baluchis to other provinces to execute them after Amnesty International and others drew attention to the rise in executions of Baluchis. […]

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