Saudi Arabia lied to UN about child executions

September 30, 2016

Images of Ali al-Nimr

Saudi Arabia told a UN committee last week that it does not sentence children to death, despite submitting written evidence in which it admitted people can be executed for crimes committed aged 15, anti-death penalty charity Reprieve has found.

The Saudi delegation told the UN’s child rights committee last Wednesday that, “The crime must have been committed by a perpetrator who is an adult at the time in order for them to be sentenced to capital punishment.” The delegation claimed that “the age of liability is always 18”.

However, this was directly contradicted by Saudi Arabia’s written evidence to the same UN committee, which contained a buried admission that children as young as 15 can face the death penalty, although the execution is not carried out until they turn 18.

Earlier this month, Reprieve wrote to Theresa May and urged the British prime minister to raise the cases of Ali Al-Nimr, Abdullah Al-Zaher and Dawood Al-Marhoon, three juveniles who were sentenced to death in the Kingdom for allegedly taking part in protests. In January this year, Saudi Arabia executed Ali al-Ribh, who was arrested at school aged 17.

Saudi Arabia confirmed in its written report to the UN that juveniles can be sentenced to death. It said that “Children who have reached the age of 15 and commit a qisas or hudud offence face qisas or hudud penalties depending upon their offence although the penalty is not enforced until they reach the age of 18.” Under Saudi law, a qisas offence can allow the family of a murder victim to seek lethal retribution, and a hudud penalty can entail execution.

Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“It is outrageous for Saudi Arabia to lie to the UN and pretend that children are not sentenced to death in the Kingdom. Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon were all under 18 when they were handed death sentences for allegedly attending protests. The international community should not fall for the Saudi government’s propaganda. The UK Foreign Office says it ‘doesn’t expect’ Ali, Dawood and Abdullah to be executed – but vague assurances are not enough. Saudi Arabia has already executed juveniles like Ali al-Ribh earlier this year. The UK Foreign Secretary must urgently call for all death sentences imposed on juveniles to be overturned. ”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at]

2. Saudi Arabia made the oral claims at 1h56m of this webcast: “I can say there is no application of the death penalty on children. We provide for capital punishment in very precise circumstances and it is applied to mature adults, and only after sufficient proof the court receives an assurance that that the perpetrator of the crime was an adult at the time the crime was committed. So if that is not the case, then no capital punishment ruling is delivered, even if the person is facing trial once the age of majority has been reached. The crime must have been committed by a perpetrator who is an adult at the time in order for them to be sentenced to capital punishment. …I insist there can never a sentence of capital punishment handed down on a child and it is only a sentence that is handed down to adults.” And then at 2h01m03s, “the age of liability is always 18”.

3. Saudi Arabia made the written statement on page 7 of its reply to the ‘List of issues in relation to the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Saudi Arabia’ for the Seventy-third session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 13-30 September 2016.

4. Reprieve’s letter to Theresa May is available on request.