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Kurdistan Resumes Executions After 7-Year Pause

FILE - Kurdish authorities reportedly have hanged three convicted murderers, breaking a seven-year moratorium on the death penalty.

After a seven-year moratorium, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has resumed executions, a move condemned by the U.N. human rights office.

A man and his two wives were hanged last week in Iraqi Kurdistan, a little over a year after they were convicted of kidnapping and murdering two girls, U.N. officials said.

Rupert Colville, speaking for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he does not know exactly why Kurdistan authorities decided to resume executions, which had ended in 2008. Local authorities have not yet made an official announcement.

"I do not have too much detail," Colville said, "but I believe there was quite a lot of pressure on the authorities about this particular case. That said, it is still a very great pity because Kurdistan had really set an excellent example in resisting the pressure...."

The death penalty was reintroduced in Iraq in 2004, after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. The first executions took place the following year. Since then, more than 600 people have been sentenced to death in various parts of the country, with the exception of the Kurdistan region.

The U.N. reports 300 people were executed in Iraq in 2012 and 2013, with a further 62 last year.

Colville told VOA the U.N. human rights office is deeply disappointed by the worrying new development on executions in Kurdistan.

"We wanted to flag it in case there are more executions in the pipeline," he said, "and to really try and stress that we really wish the Kurdistan region would go back to where it was before, which was a very honorable position."

The recent Kurdistan executions set back the cause, according to the U.N. human rights office. It is urging Kurdistan to rethink its policy shift and formalize its unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

The United Nations opposes the use of the death penalty, even for the most serious crimes. A growing number of states have abolished this practice.