Global mobilisation against Iraq’s high-profile death sentences
Tariq Aziz (photo), the Iraqi deputy prime minister during Suddam Hussein’s regime, was found guilty by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal of “deliberate murder and crimes against humanity”, and sentenced to death on 26 October.
Aziz is joined on death row by Sa’doun Shakir, the former interior minister, as well as Mizban Khuder Hadi and ‘Aziz Salih al-Noaman, two former senior officials under Saddam Hussein. All three have found support from a wide range of influential organizations and individuals that are working together to have their death sentences commuted.
The sheer number of abolitionist actors that have mobilized to prevent their executions shows that these cases illustrate the inutility of the death penalty.
On 25 November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which reiterates its general opposition to the death penalty and its specific opposition to Aziz’s death sentence as it “will do little to improve the climate of violence in Iraq” when the country “is in dire need of national reconciliation”.
The Vatican steps in
Likewise, Fr Federico Lombardi, a spokesperson from the Vatican, urged Iraq not to execute Aziz, a Christian who was a personal friend to the late John Paul II. Lombardi has stated that commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of peace and justice in Iraq. He also announced that the Vatican would likely intervene through diplomatic channels. Iraqi Archbishop Louis Sako has agreed with the Vatican saying that seeking the death penalty in Aziz’s case is “an act of vengeance” and is a “sign of the government’s weakness.”
Italy has been especially animated after its Senate unanimously voted for a bipartisan motion that commits the Government to act with urgency to prevent the execution of Tareq Aziz and his co-accused. To help achieve this Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini flew to Baghdad accompanied by European Parliament member Marco Pannella.
Former British MP Tony Benn, and human rights writer Felicity Arbuthnot called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to take action. “Any lack of action, which results in another lynching, will impose that horror on any citizen of conscience, since we are, so we are told, a democracy. We beseech you to act,” they wrote.
NGOs have also voiced their opinion on the matter. Sergio D’Elia, the Secretary of Hands Off Cain, a World Coalition member organisation, has called for a “moratorium on the death penalty for Tariq Aziz”.
Two more World Coalition members, Amnesty International and the Community of Sant’Egidio, have called for urgent action to save the lives of those former Iraqi officials who could be facing execution within 30 days of their sentence.
President Talabani opposes the execution
Perhaps the most positive and influential show of support has come from Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani who has made it clear that he will not sign Aziz’s execution order. He said: “I feel for Tareq Aziz, because he’s an Iraqi Christian, and he’s also an elderly person, over 70 years old. That’s why I will never sign this execution order.”
President Talabani, an Iraqi Kurd, is showing his support despite the fact that Aziz has also been convicted by the Iraqi court for his role in the crackdown on Iraq’s Kurdish minority.
Unfortunately for Aziz and the others, history has shown that President Talabani’s refusal to sign an execution order may not be enough stop an execution. In 2006, Saddam Hussein’s execution order was signed by his two deputies but not signed by the Iraqi President despite it being an express requirement under Iraq’s Constitution and Criminal Procedure Law.
Furthermore, the Iraqi Government has consistently maintained that the President’s signature on the execution order is not necessary when the death sentence is issued by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal.
Nevertheless, Aziz’s lawyer, Giovanni Di Stefano, predicts that a pardon will be granted.