The Islamic Republic of Iran has reportedly executed the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world during the past year, according to the report by the Special Rapporteur from the UN assigned to Iran.
“Despite an absolute ban on the practice under international law, the penal code continues to explicitly retain the death penalty for boys of at least fifteen lunar years of age and girls of at least 9 lunar years for qisas (retribution in kind) or hudud crims, like homicide, adultery or sodomy,” according to the report.
Iran updated its penal code in 2013, which requires judges to access the mental capacity of juvenile offenders before issuing a death sentence, to determine if they understood the consequences of their actions at the time they committed hudud-related crimes. Amendments to the penal code also repeal capital punishment for juveniles found guilty of violating drug-related offences.
However, judges still have the flexibility to sentence juveniles to death. Even though juveniles who were sentenced prior to the 2013 changes to the penal code can appeal their sentence, few have had their sentences overturned.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) expressed great concern about the ongoing execution of juveniles, and called on the Iranian government to rescind reservations that sanction judicial disregard of CRC provisions. It also called on the Iranian government to define juveniles as anyone under the age of 18, in line with CRC standards, and to raise the age of criminal responsibility without discriminating between boys and girls.
According to non-governmental sources, the vast majority of executions of persons convicted as juveniles are not officially reported by the Iranian government. The figures of convicted children are not known, but there are definitely over 78 on death row as of December 2016. Some of them have been languishing for years under a death sentence.
At least five young men, who were below the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offence, were executed in 2016. Three others were reportedly at imminent risk of execution for crimes they allegedly committed while there were below the age of 18 as of the end of 2016.
The Special Rapporteur also noted that in July 2016, the Iranian government introduced legislation to the parliament for review. One of the key parts of this legislation was that the judiciary should consider an alternative punishment of two to eight years’ imprisonment in a juvenile correctional facility for juvenile offenders convicted of crimes that carry the death penalty or life imprisonment. Yet little progress has developed regarding the adoption of this law during the second half of 2016 and early 2017.
The Special Rapporteur urged the Iranian government to establish an immediate moratorium on the executions of persons convicted while they were under the age of 18, to accelerate the adoption process of the Juveniles and Children’s Criminal Procedure Bill and to commute all death sentences handed down on minors, turning them into sentences in line with international juvenile justice standards.