UN calls on Saudi Arabia to stop torturing, executing minors in scathing report

© Khaled Abdullah
A UN watchdog has slammed Saudi Arabia for subjecting minors as young as 15 to stoning, flogging, amputation, and even execution, contrary to the children rights convention, but a Saudi official reportedly responded that sharia is “above all laws and treaties.”

On Thursday, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) published a report on Saudi Arabia’s track record in enforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it is a party.

Upon reviewing the kingdom’s government policy towards children, who are defined as individuals under 18 years old for the purposes of the convention, the committee urged Saudi authorities to revise its legislation “without any further delay… with a view to unambiguously prohibit the imposition of death sentence on children” pursuant to the convention.

The document noted that minors in Saudi Arabia can stand trial as adults after they reach the age of 15, and that Saudi courts issue and carry out death sentences “after trials falling short of guarantees of a due process and fair trial… especially as concerns the absolute prohibition of torture.”

“The Committee is particularly concerned that out of the 47 persons executed on 2 January 2016, at least four, namely Ali al Ribh, Mohammad Fathi, Mustafa Akbar and Amin al-Ghamadi were under the age of 18 when sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court,” the report says.

The 18-member committee also strongly criticized Saudi Arabia’s traditional practices of punishing perpetrators with stoning, flogging, and limb amputation, demanding that it “repeal all provisions contained in legislation” authorizing such penalties.

The ultra-conservative Middle Eastern country appeared to be undeterred in the face of the accusations, however. In its official reply to the report from August, the country reiterated its right to hold children aged 15 and above criminally responsible for committing certain types of offences, citing sharia (Islamic law) norms that the Saudis say cannot be overridden.

“No authority in the State has the power to modify or suspend the punishment prescribed for crimes of qisas (murder and assault) and crimes of hudud (those for which there are specified penalties in the Quran and Sunna), as these are categorically set forth in Islamic sharia and leave no leeway for interpretation,” reads the report by Bandar Bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, chairman of the Saudi Human Rights Commission.

“Islamic sharia (law) was above all laws and treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Reuters cited him as saying.

Besides, treating children as adults, the report blamed Saudi Arabia for refusing to grant girls rights equal to those of their male peers, saying that, instead, it continues to “severely discriminate [against] them in law and practice and to impose on them a system of male guardianship,” Jorge Cardona, a member of the committee, pointed out.

According to Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic law, underage girls as young as nine or ten years old can be married off, Cardona says, adding that this “poses a concrete problem for rights protected by the convention.”

The report calls on the Saudi government to abolish “all forms of discrimination against girls” and “address the persistent negative gender stereotypes” that result in young women being abused and discriminated against.

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The committee also weighed in on the ongoing Saudi-led offensive in Yemen, which it noted has contributed to the death and suffering of many children.

In a study recently conducted by the Yemen Data Project, it was revealed that the Saudi-coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which supports the ousted government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, has struck more non-military targets than military ones in five of the last 18 months, with one third targeting civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

According to UNICEF, 1.5 million children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition, with 370,000 cases severe enough to be life threatening.