Saudi Arabia tells UN Human Rights Council it “does not torture”

March 10, 2016

Image of Ali al-Nimr

Saudi Arabia has claimed to the UN Human Rights Council that it “fights torture” and guarantees fair trials – despite the planned execution of three juveniles who were tortured into “confessions.”

In remarks made earlier this week to the Council – which is meeting in Geneva for its final session – Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture and Information, Bandar al-Ali, claimed his government respects human rights, and “fights torture in all its physical and moral manifestations”. He added that “Saudi Arabia [was] one of the very first countries which promoted human rights”, and that the country’s law “prohibits any physical or psychological harm to be inflicted on an arrested person. It is also prohibited to subject [the accused person] to torture or degrading treatment.”

The claims, which emerged yesterday, come as concerns grow for three juveniles facing execution in Saudi Arabia after being arrested at protests. Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher were all arrested in the wake of protests in the Eastern Province in 2012; the three were tortured into signing ‘confessions’, which were used to sentence them to death in the country’s secretive Specialized Criminal Court. It has also emerged that a fourth juvenile, Ali al Ribh, was among 47 prisoners executed in the country this January. Ali, who was arrested in school, was also subjected to torture.

Bandar al Ali’s comments to the Human Rights Council were made in response to a critical report released on Friday by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez. In the annual report, issued ahead of Council’s session, Mr Mendez “expressed grave concerns” about juvenile executions in Saudi Arabia, and warned all countries that the death penalty amounted to a form of torture.

The news comes as it emerged Saudi Arabia has now executed 70 people this year alone, making it one of the world’s most prolific executioners. In research last year into the country’s death row, human rights organization Reprieve found that the 72%of those facing execution were convicted of non-violent offences, including alleged drug crimes and political protests. Many prisoners reported having been tortured into ‘confessing.’

At a side event at the Council’s session in Geneva today, human rights organizations including Reprieve will call on countries such as the UK and the US to urge Saudi Arabia to halt executions.

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

“Saudi Arabia’s claims to the UN Human Rights Council sound like a sick joke when one considers the reality within the country – including the arrest, torture and execution of juveniles, political protestors and others. Countries that are close to Saudi Arabia – including the UK – must urge that government to halt these terrible abuses, instead of simply trying to cover them up with paper-thin rhetoric.”


Notes to editors

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

2. A transcript of Mr al Ali’s remarks are available on request, while a video of his speech is available here.

3. Further detail on the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report is available from the Reprieve website, while the report is available here (under reference A/HRC/31/57.Add.1), or on request.

4. Reprieve’s research into the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available on the Reprieve website, here.