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Iran Accused of Executing Juveniles in Violation of International Law

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights accuses the government of Iran of violating international law by executing juveniles. The agency says it is very concerned about the recent executions of two juvenile offenders and about the imminent risk of execution facing two other young people. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from OHCHR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. Human Rights Office says Reza Hedjazi is believed to have been executed on August 19 and Behnam Zaare a week later on August 26. It says these young people are reported to have been 15 and 16 years old when they committed their crimes.

Human Rights Watch says both Hedjazi and Zaare were convicted of murder several years ago and that Zaare was 19 when he was executed last month and Hedjazi about 20.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says these executions appear to be in clear violation of international law, which prohibits the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

"Iran's legal obligation not to impose the death penalty for juveniles was assumed voluntarily when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed by people below the age of 18," he said.

Colville says Iran is one of very few countries in the world that still execute juveniles. He says most countries have abolished the death penalty for young offenders or have put a moratorium on this practice.

He says U.N. human rights officials are afraid the Iranian government soon will go ahead with the execution of two other juvenile offenders.

He says his office is urging Iran to comply with its international human rights obligations and to stay the executions. He says it also should refrain from imposing the death penalty for juvenile offenders in the future.

"OHCHR [the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] is also concerned over reports of a recent increase in the number of executions in Iran in general," said Colville. "On the 27th of July, for example, 29 executions are reported to have taken place. A month later, on the 28th of August, another five people, including a woman, were reported to have been executed. In all, more than 220 people, including six juvenile offenders, are believed to have been executed this year in Iran already."

Colville says juveniles in Iran face the death penalty for murder, rape and drug trafficking. He says Iran is bucking the global trend, which is heading toward the abolition of capital punishment.

Besides Iran, the United States, China, Congo and Pakistan have put juvenile offenders to death this decade, according to Human Rights Watch. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished executions of offenders for crimes committed as juveniles.