Rights of the Child The Torture and Execution of Youth in Iran

This article was published in Gozaar: A Forum on Human Rights and Democracy in Iran
10 October 2008
At the peak of revolutionary fever in 1978, some Iranians remained discreet in their revolutionary ideals and actions. The more vocal revolutionaries called for a new legal system that would hold girls as young as nine years-old and boys as young as fifteen years-old accountable for their actions. This system—under the guise of protecting revolutionary values—would subject children to harsh punishments.
Is this overt support for a new system of criminal law plausible? For years, questioning the legal system was considered a crime. Challengers were convicted for their alleged resistance of Islamic fundamentals. These laws were left unchallenged after Iranians became distracted by war, political crises, and civil unrest. Fear is like ash; if it settles on human character, it can become dusty. Although fear can appear more threatening than it really is, people can still become crippled under its weight. Cloaked in dust, the new laws were quickly forgotten.
Questioning the legal system was delayed until after this bloody period. The system became more flexible after the end of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq, and reformists took advantage of this opportunity to carefully challenge the law. In 1992 Iran signed UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets eighteen as the legal age of criminal responsibility for both boys and girls. In Iran, however, the legal age of criminal responsibility has yet to be revised; citing item 1121 of the Iranian civil law code, item forty-nine of Iran’s Islamic sentencing law still defines the legal age of criminal responsibility as nine-years-old for girls and fifteen-year-old for boys. Therefore, child offenders are fit for the same punishments as adult criminals.
The government of Iran is ignoring this basic human right as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran is playing a dishonest game with international organizations by giving them the impression that the country’s laws, which have not been revised, do not allow the execution of children under eighteen.
Does Iran take full responsibility for advancing these false impressions or is it hiding the behind the international community’s lack of awareness and ignorance? With the influx of new communication tools like the internet, human rights activists and defense lawyers have been better able to spread the word. By exposing and presenting real-life examples, the activists have reminded the international community that those who are executed upon reaching the age of eighteen actually committed their alleged crimes as children or adolescents. The Iranian government confines the convicted in prison cells for years under death sentences. Youths aware of their death sentence undergo years of torture and fearfully await the morning they will be hanged. This anticipation may be the greatest torture. To this day, international human rights and legal organizations have not adequately dealt with the long and slow torture of children and adolescents. These organizations primarily investigate the executions of these children and adolescents and not the torture they bear leading up to the implementation of their sentences.
In international discourse, the issue of human rights in Iran has become secondary to Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Iran’s unscrupulous game-playing with international human rights organizations is unacceptable.
What is the meaning of this dishonorable game? Is it a lie or simply a difference of opinion about international standards? If it is indeed a difference of opinion and Iran deems it more appropriate to sentence children and adolescents to execution than to send them to rehabilitation centers, why did Iran sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child? If Iran did not recognize eighteen as the legal age of criminal responsibility, it should not have entered into the international agreement. Iran is ruining its reputation with the international community by posing like a pig with lipstick. Iran cannot buy its national honor in the international scene through fraud. Defending the rights of Palestinians or of Turkish women who observe Islamic dress code does not guarantee a favorable international reputation. Rather, such a reputation rests on a country protecting its citizens’ rights as defined by world law. The practice of keeping children and adolescents in prisons until they turn eighteen before executing them contradicts justice and cannot be counteracted by other deeds. There is no substitute for these unjust actions. A country that throws its own children under the bus by torturing and executing them can position itself as a defender of Muslims, but will lose all its credibility.

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