Last Friday, May 1st, Delara Darabi was secretly executed for a crime that she allegedly committed when she was seventeen years old, in flagrant defiance of both international and Iranian law.

Darabi confessed in 2003 to the killing of her father’s cousin but had since recanted her confession and stated that her boyfriend had committed the murder during a robbery.  Darabi claimed that she had confessed to the murder in order to save her boyfriend, believing that because she was a minor she would not be executed.  In theory, Darabi was correct; Iran is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which clearly prohibits the execution of offenders whose crimes took place when they were under eighteen years old.  In practice, however, Iran leads the world in the number of juvenile offenders executed each year.

Darabi’s execution reveals a troubling split within the Iranian Judiciary.  The Head of the Judiciary had ordered a stay of execution on April 19th, but this order was ignored by prison officials who apparently wanted to hold the execution as soon as possible to avoid an international outcry.Neither Darabi’s lawyer nor her parents were notified prior to the execution, in violation of an Iranian law mandating that an offender’s lawyer be notified 48 hours in advance.  Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy director of the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch notes, “It appears that Iran’s head of Judiciary has no ability to control even his own judges… This is an outrageous violation of Iranian as well as international human rights law, and a callous affront to basic human dignity.”

Delera Darabi’s death is a senseless tragedy.  It represents a profound breakdown in the rule of law in Iran.  What is the point of even having a national system of courts when local officials can ignore direct orders from the highest positions?  I have not yet read any article describing the reaction of the Iranian people to this case, but I hope that it will spark a national discussion just in time for the presidential election.  If anything constructive can come of this appalling miscarriage of justice, I hope that the people of Iran will demand a judicial system based on human rights and the rule of law.

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