GENEVA — Britain, France and Italy on Tuesday called on Iraq to halt use of the death penalty, expressing concern at a growth in the number of executions in the past two years.
However, Iraq told the UN Human Rights Council that it had not been in a position to abolish capital punishment "because of the severity and intensity of terrorist crimes" and their huge civilian toll.
"Because of the extraordinary circumstances we are facing... we have maintained the penalty as a means of deterrence," while victims and their relatives needed a sense of justice, explained Iraq's Minister for Human Rights, Wijdan Salim.
Some 122 executions were carried out over the past five years out of 925 death sentences passed by criminal courts, according to Iraqi authorities.
France told the UN council that 79 people were hanged last year alone.
French ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei called on Iraq to commit to "the path of abolition of capital punishment" by swiftly approving "a moratorium and commuting death sentences already handed down."
Britain and Italy also called for a moratorium.
"We remain concerned that Iraq maintains the death penalty and the number of executions has increased in the last two years," said British ambassador Peter Gooderham.
Salim told the council that the Iraqi government was striving to reduce the number of executions "to the minimum," while "respecting the rights of victims" and their families.
Iraq was facing a four yearly review of its human rights record in the council, a process applied to all UN member states.