UN experts welcome the reversal of death sentences of three Saudi minors, urge their release
Translation and editing by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, 3 March 2021
UN human rights experts have welcomed Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to commute the death sentences of three individuals for crimes they allegedly committed when they were under 18, and urged the kingdom to quash their conviction and release them.
An important decision to comply with human rights obligations:
“We welcome the important announcement of the Saudi Human Rights Commission to commute the death sentences of Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr. Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher, who have been re-sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, inclusive of time served,” the experts said in a statement released by the Human Rights Council’s Media Center in Geneva.
“This decision is an important step towards compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations, particularly under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits executions for crimes committed by persons under the age of 18,” the experts added.
The Experts noted that the commutation was based on the March 2020 Royal Order, which stipulated that any individual sentenced to death for crimes committed while he was a minor would not face execution. Instead, an individual will be sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment in a juvenile facility.
Concerns about death sentences:
“Serious concerns remain in relation to the young men’s convictions and continued detention that must now be resolved urgently,” the experts stressed, reiterating their call for the authorities to release them or at least retry them in accordance with international law and standards without delay.
Experts also expressed their deep concern about the fate of all those still on death row, including Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was also sentenced to death for a crime he allegedly committed as a minor and now faces execution after a trial marred by allegations of torture.
Experts said that despite the March 2020 Royal Order, Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty continues to violate international law.
“We continue to receive allegations of torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions, and in relation to the imposition of the death penalty for crimes which do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’, required under international law,” the experts said.
The Experts also stressed that the death penalty should in no way be applied to individuals exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and religion or belief.
At the end of their statement, the experts called on the Government of Saudi Arabia to formally confirm the moratorium on executions for drug crimes, which was announced in January 2021 but has not yet been legalized, and urged the Kingdom’s government to halt all pending executions in the country, and to establish a moratorium on the death penalty quickly and consider its complete abolition.
Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher were arrested and sentenced to death on charges previously considered to represent criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression.
They were allegedly tortured and ill-treated, forced to confess, denied adequate legal aid and access to an effective complaints mechanism.