Obama Saudi visit: UN demands halt to juvenile executions

April 20, 2016

Image of Ali al-Nimr

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on Saudi Arabia to revoke the death sentences of three juveniles arrested for attending protests, in a document that has emerged as President Obama visits the country.

In a ‘list of issues’ presented to the government of Saudi Arabia earlier this year, the Committee called on the country “to revoke the decisions authorizing the executions of persons convicted for crimes committed when they were children, and to immediately halt the executions of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr, Dawood Hussain Almarhon and Abdullah Hassan Alzaher.” The three were all children when they were arrested for allegedly attending protests in the country’s Eastern Province in May 2012; each juvenile was forced under torture to sign ‘confessions’, which would be used against them in secretive trial proceedings.

The execution of juveniles is prohibited under international law, but the Saudi government is known to have executed several juveniles in recent months. Among them was Ali Al-Ribh, who was arrested in school in the wake of protests and executed in January this year alongside 46 others. In the UN document, the Committee calls on Saudi Arabia to “indicate the measures taken to prohibit by law the imposition of death penalty to anyone under 18 at the time of commission of the offence”, and to investigate the juveniles’ allegations of torture. The Saudi government has been given a deadline of June this year to respond to the concerns.

The UN call has emerged as President Obama visits Saudi Arabia for what’s expected to be the last such trip of his Presidency. Human rights organization Reprieve has called on Mr Obama to raise the cases of the juveniles during the visit. Speaking in December last year, a US State Department spokesperson said the Obama Administration was “concern[ed]” by Ali Al-Nimr’s case, and called on Saudi Arabia “to respect universal human rights and its international obligations.” However, it is not clear whether the US has raised the juveniles’ cases directly.

Last year, Ali al-Nimr’s mother Nusra al-Ahmed called on President Obama to secure her son’s release, telling the Guardian: “My son and I are simple people and we don’t carry any significance in this world but despite that, if he [Obama] carried out this act, I feel it would raise his esteem in the eyes of the world.” She added, “He would be rescuing us from a great tragedy.”

Research by Reprieve has revealed that 72 per cent of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia were convicted of non-violent offenses, such as political protest.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child is right to demand an end to the terrible abuses we’re seeing in Saudi Arabia – and it is crucial that President Obama uses this week’s visit to do the same. It is appalling that the Saudi authorities are planning to execute Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, who were children when they were arrested, and who were tortured into bogus ‘confessions.’ Obama must urgently call for their release – and for a halt to the political repression that saw them arrested, and sentenced to death, in the first place.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The UN CRC document is available on request.

3. Comments last year by the US State Department’s on Ali Al-Nimr’s case can be seen here (December) and here (September).

4. The comments by Ali Al-Nimr’s mother, Nusra Al-Ahmed, can be seen here.

5. Reprieve’s recent report on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available here.