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Saudi Arabia: UN experts alarmed by imminent executions linked to NEOM project

03 May 2023

GENEVA (3 May 2023) – UN experts* today expressed alarm at the imminent risk of execution of three members of the Howeitat tribe in Saudi Arabia and urged authorities to halt the process.

“Despite being charged with terrorism, they were reportedly arrested for resisting forced evictions in the name of the NEOM project and the construction of a 170km linear city called The Line,” the UN experts said. NEOM is a futuristic smart city development project of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Mr Shadly Ahmad Mahmoud Abou Taqiqa al-Huwaiti, Mr Ibrahim Salih Ahmad Abou Khalil al-Huwaiti and Mr Atallah Moussa Mohammed al-Huwaiti were reportedly sentenced to death on 5 August 2022, and their sentences were upheld by the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal on 23 January 2023. Three other members of the Howeitat tribe were sentenced to severe prison terms: Mr Abdelnasser Ahmad Mahmoud Abou Taqiqa al-Huwaiti was sentenced to 27 years; Mr Mahmoud Ahmad Mahmoud Abou Taqiqa al-Huwaiti was sentenced to 35 years; and Mr Abdullah Dakhilallah al-Huwaiti was sentenced to 50 years.

“Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing,” the experts said. “We do not believe the actions in question meet this threshold.”

They urged the Saudi authorities to investigate the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment promptly and impartially, to review the sentences imposed on these six individuals and, if appropriate, to retry them in accordance with the norms and standards of due process and fair trial. “Any statement that is proven to have been made as a result of torture is inadmissible in any proceedings,” they said.

“All six individuals have been charged under the overly vague 2017 Saudi law on combating crimes of terrorism and its financing,” the experts said, warning that this law does not appear to be in line with international law, as raised several times by Special Procedures. They expressed serious concern that some of the detainees had allegedly been subjected to torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions of guilt, and that due process safeguards had not been followed to ensure their right to a fair trial.

The authorities have reportedly carried out a series of actions to evict members of the Howeitat tribe from their homes and traditional lands in three villages – Al Khuraiba, Sharma and Gayal – in the name of the NEOM project since January 2020. Despite promises that they would be involved in the process and receive fair compensation, many have allegedly been evicted and their homes demolished without adequate compensation. During the initial protests, one member of the tribe, Mr Abdul Rahim bin Ahmed Mahmoud Al Huwaiti, was reportedly killed in his own home by members of the Saudi Special Forces.

“Given the circumstances, we cannot consider that the requirements of consultation and free, prior and informed consent of the Howeitat people of the three villages have been met,” the experts said. “On the contrary, these actions would certainly amount to forced evictions, which are prohibited under international law as a violation of the right to adequate housing. The actions also constitute flagrant violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

“We urge all companies involved, including foreign investors, to ensure that they are not causing or contributing to, and are not directly linked to serious human rights abuses,” they said.

The experts reminded Saudi Arabia of its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. They called on the authorities to recognise core international human rights instruments, including the two International Covenants, as soon as possible, to establish an official moratorium on all executions with a view to the complete abolition of the death penalty, and to allow external scrutiny, including by accepting pending country visit requests from UN Special Procedures.

The experts have already contacted the Government, the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the Neom Company, as well as 18 foreign companies and the States where they are domiciled on this issue.


The experts: Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mr. Mumba Malila Working Group on arbitrary detention; Pichamon Yeophantong (Chair), Damilola Olawuyi (Vice-Chair), Fernanda Hopenhaym, Elżbieta Karska, and Robert McCorquodale - Working Group on Business and Human Rights; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Special Rapporteurs 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.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

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