Afdeling 242

A critical review of some human rights organizations:
What have we done for elimination of death penalty?


An organization that works on execution has published news about death penalty on its website and provided annual reports on this matter which it does regularly. Having known the activities of this organization stroke me to write this critical piece about some human rights organizations, which focus on receiving huge funds in pretext of fighting against death penalty. 

I have a clear question for such organizations to ask what they have actually done to eliminate death penalty. My work and efforts to limit and abolish juvenile executions, and stoning to death are not hidden for anyone who is interested to know. As a critic, I have the experience of living and working in Iran. I am perfectly familiar with the current conditions. Besides, I have lived outside of Iran for some time and know how so called human rights organizations work.


When I was in Iran and worked as a professional lawyer, my inner intention was to save people from stoning sentences and death penalty specially children under the age of 18. Therefore, I concentrated to work on personal characters of my clients and attracted public opinion to inhumanity of stoning punishment as well as execution of children under 18. I should mention that I worked with many colleagues and other human rights activists in Iran at that time focusing mostly on the personality of criminals rather than the crimes and punishments. We were quite successful in achieving our goals including restriction of juvenile execution and abolishment of stoning sentence that became such historical records. Execution of children under eighteen in Ta’zirat crimes such as drug dealing was eradicated from the law completely, and in crimes of Hudud and Qisas some regulations were made for judges in order to decide death penalty for children under eighteen.


The reason I emphasize on the work and activities of people and organizations in Iran is because without their work, no international organization could gain any kind of achievements. It is essential to mobilize civil society and pave the way for human rights defenders to work with the least security expenses. When I and some of my colleagues were forced to leave Iran, most of the activities that we initiated to abolish death penalty were stopped. However, today we sometimes hear about some cases that become public with very little advocacy. But, how is the work done against death penalty at present? The answer is quite clear. There are many organizations, and were at the time when we were working in Iran, that used criminal cases we defended to get funds from international institutions without even effectively fighting against death penalty. At the moment, many organizations exist whose works are to only to jangle about certain issues. For instance, if an official website publishes news about execution in Iran, they use it as a bait to feed their data and publish the news on their website without taking any effort to advocate for stopping the execution. People who read their annual reports perceive how valuable is their work without knowing that they just distribute information and make reports from the works of others or translate them to English. Nevertheless, we cannot deny there are also some people and organizations who are passionate about their jobs and produce valuable work. At the same time there are some organizations that have considerable funds, but don’t know how to spend the money. They organize inappropriate seminars, unnecessary conferences and meetings and spend tens of thousands dollars for just a few days. Such money can be spent on elimination of death penalty by consulting experts on criminal matters. Unfortunately, the work of many human rights organizations have been confined to disseminating information. In other words, they have turned to work as news agency. Amnesty International’s main focus has been on broadcasting news while such a task is assigned for media and news agencies not human rights organizations whose duties are to defend human rights of people. For example, before a person is executed, such organizations must work hard to stop the execution, not to wait for the execution take place and condemn the government of Iran afterwards. I have a more specific question to ask on this matter whether writing reports, statements and letters of condemnation have resulted in reducing death penalty. The answer is no. statements, reports and condemnations can be less effective while the most effective work is actual human rights activities. It is required to work more deeply and sometimes engage with the government’s discourse to prevent execution and change the laws. Another factor which is important to remember is that human rights issues should be addressed by experts not anyone who claims to be a human rights activist receiving huge budgets and spending money unreasonably.


In my view, such behavior should be considered betrayal of human rights that not only prevents any kind of development in this regard but also worsens our situation. In a recent report made by Iran’s Human Rights Organization, It has mentioned violent oppression of civil society, freedom of the press and lack of transparency in judicial system feeds death penalty. This report does not include all the factors of death penalty in Iran. I believe, although civil society is suppressed and the media is restricted, we can have human rights activities more professionally if we really want to have some work done. As we see there are still some individuals, groups and organizations actively working in Iran. Finally, I recommend human rights organizations change their work from broadcasting news to providing services to support human rights. This will need to have experts inside and out of Iran. It is necessary for human rights activist to ask themselves some questions; what needs to be done to eliminate death penalty? 

Have they worked on personality of criminals more professionally? 

Have they created personality files for the criminals in the organization? 

Have they provided criminals with lawyers? 

Many who are sentenced to death are not able to hire a lawyer. Have they consulted criminologists, and sociologists to eliminate death penalty?

 I should say again the answer to these questions are no and such preliminary work have not been undertaken in most of human rights organizations but misuse of news about executions. 


I wish for a day to come when an organization work passionately to eliminate death penalty through appropriate ways, because it is highly crucial to have essential experts’ views and opinions for elimination of death penalty in order to direct society’s public conscious towards elimination of death penalty as I and my colleagues did when we worked to eliminate juvenile execution and stoning to death sentence in Iran.


Best regards,

Mohammad Mostafaei,
Director of Universal Tolerance Organization

  • Laatste wijziging 16 maart 2021.