Saudi Arabia slammed over child executions, discrimination
The universal periodic review (UPR), which examines the human rights situation of every UN member state every four years, focused on Saudi Arabia on February 6, 2009. UN agencies, NGOs and representatives from other member states pointed out serious death penalty issues in the review.
The case of juvenile offenders featured prominently in the criticism levelled at the Saudi government. The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child “urged Saudi Arabia to critically review its legislation with a view to abolishing the imposition of capital and corporal punishment on persons having committed crimes when under 18 years of age”.
Several human rights organisations, including World Coalition members Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch, called on the kingdom to end child executions, too.
They also criticised the wide scope of capital crimes, “including non-violent offences”, and the unfair administration of the death penalty, citing a bias against foreigners and women.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported “cases where death sentences have been passed based on confessions obtained under torture, and in criminal proceedings falling short of international fair trial standards”.
“AI recommended to the government to declare a moratorium on executions, review the cases of all prisoners currently under sentence of death with the aim of commuting their sentences or offering them a new and fair trial without resort to the death penalty and bring the law and judicial practices into line with fair trial guarantees in international standards”, the UN submissions summary read.
Saudi delegation rejects international recommendations
In the draft report released after the review, the representatives of several UN member states called on Saudi Arabia to clean up its act. Italy, Mexico, Switzerland and Sweden demanded a complete moratorium on executions in the kingdom.
New Zealand asked Saudi Arabia to “protect the rights of those facing the death penalty, including through strengthened application of international safeguards in the use of the death penalty”.
The UK, Germany and Austria specifically called for the end of child executions.
The Saudi delegation to the UN made no mention of the death penalty in the national report submitted before the review. In its first reaction to the recommendations, it rejected all the demands made by other member states in relation to the death penalty, arguing that “they do not conform to its existing laws, pledges, commitments or do not refer to existing practices in Saudi Arabia”.
According to AI figures, the kingdom ranked third in the world for the number of known executions in 2007.