BAGHDAD: Iraq executed 17 convicted criminals in one day this week, the justice ministry said on Wednesday, bringing to at least 51 the number so far this year.
"The justice ministry carried out (death) sentences against 17 people condemned for terrorist and criminal crimes … on Tuesday," a statement said.
"The ministry is continuing to carry out punishments against criminals according to the law and the constitution," Justice Minister Hassan Al-Shammari was quoted as saying.
Last month, ministry spokesman Haidar Al-Saadi said Iraq had so far executed 34 people this year, including two women and a Syrian. That is half the entire figure of 68 for all of 2011, including three foreigners and three Iraqi women.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed shock last week at the number of executions, criticizing the lack of transparency in court proceedings and calling for an immediate suspension of the death penalty.
"I call on the government of Iraq to implement an immediate moratorium on the institution of the death penalty," she said.
"Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day," said Pillay, a South African high court judge.
"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure," she said.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1,200 people have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004, but it does not have comprehensive statistics on executions.
Death sentences in Iraq must be signed by the country’s president, currently Jalal Talabani, but the chief executive may delegate that authority to either of the two vice presidents. As Talabani is an ardent opponent of the death penalty, that is what he does.