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UN Concerned At Rising Iran Executions

Two Iranian teenagers hanged publicly in 2005 on charges of raping younger boys.
GENEVA -- The UN human rights office has voiced concern at a recent rise in executions in Iran and implored the Islamic Republic to stay death sentences handed down for all convicts accused of committing crimes as minors.

Two men, named as Mohammad Fadaaee and Amir Amrollahi, face imminent risk of execution on murder charges, but carrying out the death penalty would violate international law ratified by Tehran, as they were juveniles as the time, it said.

"We urge the government of Iran to stay the executions of both of them in strict compliance of its international human rights obligations and not to impose the death penalty on juvenile offenders in the future," United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights was "also concerned over reports of a recent increase in the number of executions in Iran in general," he said.

Iran is believed to have already executed 220 people so far this year, including six juvenile offenders, Colville said. Among them were 29 convicted criminals hanged on July 27 and five people hanged a week ago, including a woman.

Police in recent months have arrested dozens of people in a new drive against "immoral behavior" in Iran, which Amnesty International has listed as the world's second-most prolific executioner in 2007 after China.

The UN rights office was concerned that two Iranian men, Reza Hejazi and Behnam Zarei, were hanged last month for murders committed at age 15 and 16, according to Colville.

"These executions appear to be in clear violation of international law, which contains an absolute prohibition of the death penalty for juvenile offenders," he said.

Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which ban the death penalty for crimes committed by people under age 18.

Iran rejects accusations it is violating human rights and accuses the West of double standards and hypocrisy.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's sharia law, practised since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran has executed at least 30 juvenile criminals since 1990, including seven in 2007, according to activists who say Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only two other countries to do so.

On July 8, major human rights groups including Amnesty International urged Iran to commute sentences against nearly 140 juvenile offenders known to be on death row at the time.

UN human rights officials raised the issue as a "matter of urgency" while in Iran earlier this year, Colville said.

South African judge Navanathem Pillay, who took over as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights September 1, vowed to speak out firmly for victims of rights abuses around the world -- and against the abusers.