Saudi Arabia: UN experts welcome commutation of death sentences for three minors, urge charges be dropped


3 March 2021

GENEVA (3 March 2021) – UN human rights experts* welcomed Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to commute the death sentences given to three individuals for crimes allegedly committed when they were less than 18 years old, and urged Saudi Arabia to quash their convictions and release them.

“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,” said the experts.

“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 noted that the commutation of sentences was based on the March 2020 Royal Order which provides that any individual who received a death sentence for crimes committed while being a minor would no longer face execution. Instead, the individual would receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile facility.

“Serious concerns remain in relation to the young men’s convictions and continued detention that must now be resolved urgently,” the experts said.

Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr. Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher were arrested and sentenced to death for charges that the experts previously considered to represent criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression. They were allegedly tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment, forced to confess, denied adequate legal assistance and access to an effective complaint mechanism.

“We reiterate our call to the authorities to release Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr. Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher or, at the very least, to retry them in accordance with international law and standards, without delay.”

The experts also expressed deep concern for the fate of all those who remain on death row, including Mr. Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was also sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed when he was a minor and is now facing execution following a trial marred by torture allegations.

The experts also stress that notwithstanding 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. We reiterate that under no circumstances should the death penalty be applied to individuals who are exercising their fundamental rights of freedoms of expression, assembly and religion or belief,” the experts said.

“We call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to officially confirm the moratorium on executions for drug offences, announced in January 2021 but not yet codified. We also urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to halt all pending executions in the country, to promptly establish a moratorium on the death penalty and to consider its complete abolition.”


* The experts: Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr.Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Saudi Arabia 
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