UN calls on Saudi Arabia to halt child executions – Reprieve comment

October 7, 2016

Image of Ali al-Nimr

The UN’s child rights committee has called on Saudi Arabia to end the death penalty for children, amid fears for three juveniles who face beheading in relation to protests.

In a report published this morning, experts from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned the Gulf kingdom for its practice of sentencing children to death, noting that juveniles over 15 years old were tried as adults and executed “after trials falling short of guarantees of due process and a fair trial.” The committee’s experts urged the Saudi authorities to “repeal all provisions contained in legislation which authorise the stoning, amputation and flogging of children.”

A number of juveniles currently face execution in Saudi Arabia. They include Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, who were 17,17 and 15 when they were arrested in 2012, in relation to protests. All three were tortured by Saudi police into ‘confessions’, which were used against them in secretive trial proceedings. The three were sentenced to beheading, and their final appeals have been rejected – meaning they could executed at any time, without notification to their families.

Several prisoners who were convicted as children were among 47 people killed in a mass execution on January 2nd this year. They included Ali al-Ribh, who was arrested at school in relation to the 2012 protests.

The committee’s report urged the Saudi authorities “to immediately halt the execution of people who were below the age of 18 at the time of the alleged commission of the offence”, including Ali, Dawood and Abdullah; and to “ensure that children who did not benefit from a fair trial be immediately released, and that the others have their death sentence commuted in line with international juvenile justice standards.”

The report follows the recent raising of concerns that the Saudi authorities had lied to the UN committee on the issue. Two weeks ago, a Saudi delegation told the committee that “the age of liability is always 18” in Saudi Arabia, saying: “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.”

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.

Human rights organization Reprieve has written to Theresa May, urging the British prime minister to request that Saudi Arabia commute the death sentences handed to Ali, Dawood and Abdullah.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“The Saudi authorities have shown that they have no qualms about sentencing children to death, including those who have been tortured into ‘confessions’ – and then lying to the UN about it. The UN is entirely right to call for an end to the appalling practice of child executions in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s close allies, such as the UK, must now urge the Saudi authorities to commute the sentences handed to Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, and others like them.”


Notes to editors

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

2. The report from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child can be seen here.

3. Further detail on Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher is available at the Reprieve website.

4. A Saudi government official made the oral claims to the committee at 1h56m of this webcast: “I can say there is no application of the death penalty on children… 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”.

5. 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.

6. Reprieve’s letter to Prime Minister Theresa May is available on request.