Iraq executes 17 people days after UN rebuke

An Iraqi inmate with prayer beads at Baghdad's prison. File photo More than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004

Iraq says another 17 people were executed on Tuesday, days after the UN condemned Baghdad for carrying out a large number of executions and questioned the fairness of trials.

The Iraqi justice ministry says the convicted criminals were punished "according to the law".

This brings the number of executions in Iraq this year to more than 50.

Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the situation as "terrifying".

Ms Pillay also said there were "major concerns about due process and fairness of trials".

She also highlighted concerns about forced confessions, pointing out there were no reports of anyone on death row being pardoned.

She was speaking after 34 people were executed in Iraq on a single day - 19 January.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said last week it believed that at least 63 people have been executed in Iraq in the past two months.

Its comments echoed the findings by Amnesty International in its 2011 report on human rights in Iraq.

"Trials consistently failed to satisfy international standards for fair trial; defendants frequently alleged that they had been forced to sign 'confessions' under torture or other duress while held incommunicado in pre-trial detention and were unable to choose their own defence lawyers," Amnesty said.

The UN says the total number of people sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004 is believed to be more than 1,200.

Executions were halted after President Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion into the country in 2003.

However, the Iraqi authorities reinstated capital punishment the following year, saying it was needed because of attacks by insurgents and sectarian violence.

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