Human Rights: Saudi Arabia must immediately halt execution of children – UN rights experts urge

A group of United Nations human rights experts* today urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted for a crime reportedly committed as a child. He may be executed at any time.

Geneva, September 22, 2015.- “Saudi Arabia may so far this year have executed at least 134 people, which already represents 44 more than the total for the whole of last year,” they noted. “Such a surge in executions in the country makes Saudi Arabia a sad exception in a world where States are increasingly moving away from the death penalty.”

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a high school student, was arrested in 2012 by the Saudi authorities when he was 17 for his participation in Arab Spring protests in Qatif, Eastern Province. During his arrest and detention, he was reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment by the General Investigation Directorate, which coerced him to confess the charges against him. “Confessions obtained under torture are unacceptable and cannot be used as evidence before court,” the experts stressed.

“Any judgment imposing the death penalty upon persons who were children at the time of the offence , and their execution, are incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations,” they said, while recalling the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a party.

In May 2015, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Mr. al-Nimr to death, for, inter alia, joining a criminal group and attacking police forces, after proceedings which fell short of international standards, and confirmed its sentence in September.

“Mr. al-Nimr did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer was not allowed to properly assist him and was prevented from accessing the case file,” the independent experts said. Reliable information indicates that even the appeal undertaken by his lawyer was heard without any prior notification and treated with a complete disregard for international standards.

“International law, accepted as binding by Saudi Arabia, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution,” they stated.

“In light of reports that the trial against Mr. al-Nimr fell short of such standards, we call upon the Saudi authorities to ensure a fair retrial of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, and to immediately halt the scheduled execution,” the experts added.

It is reported that at least two other individuals who were children at the time they were arrested for their participation in the protests in Qatif in 2012 were also sentenced to death. They are at risk of an imminent execution.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, halt executions of persons convicted who were children at the time of the offence, and ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into all alleged acts of torture,” the experts underscored.

(*) The experts: Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Benyam Mezmur, current Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Child.

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