updated 7/8/2008 5:10:07 PM ET 2008-07-08T21:10:07

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Iran to fulfill its promise to outlaw the execution of minors, charging it has been sending children as young as 16 to the gallows.

The New York-based human rights group, together with 23 other organizations, sounded the alarm over Iran's policy of executing those under 18, noting that four other Iranian minors are scheduled to be put to death this summer.

The juveniles in question have all been convicted of murder.

"Iran is violating international law every time it executes a juvenile offender whether or not the individual has reached 18 at the time of his or her execution," read the joint statement.

In a move strongly condemned by the European Union, Iran executed a Kurdish-Iranian 16-year-old boy in June for a crime he committed two years earlier.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi had earlier announced that the execution of minors has "practically stopped" and that the country was working to outlaw the procedure.

Iran is a member state of both the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child; "both of which prohibit the execution of persons under the age of 18 at the time of their offense," said HRW.

Iran had executed at least 17 juvenile offenders, eight times more than any other country, since the beginning of 2004, including two so far this year, according to an HRW count.

The international watchdog believes, based on findings by network lawyers and testimonies by local activists, that almost 140 juvenile offenders are on death row in Iran, "but the true figure could be even higher."

The figure could not be confirmed by Iranian authorities, according to researcher Clarisa Bencomo, from HRW's Children's Rights Division.

In Iran, capital crimes include murder, rape and drug trafficking.

Under Iranian law, whose penal code follows Islamic law, the final say in such cases is for the victim's family who can pardon the perpetrator or accept compensation in lieu of execution.

On June 22, a bill was proposed in Iran's parliament to outlaw juvenile executions but it has yet to be passed.

An earlier HRW report, which deemed Iran "the world's leading offender" in this area, said that the proposed legislation would still allow the death penalty for juvenile offenders if the judge decided the defendant was "mentally mature."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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