Yemen's government should stop seeking and carrying out the death penalty for child offenders, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [press release] in a report [text, PDF] on Monday. The report found that since 2007 Yemen executed at least 15 men and women who were under 18 at the time of their offense. HRW urged President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to immediately reverse execution orders for three juvenile offenders currently on death row who have exhausted all appeals and could now face a firing squad. The report noted the failure of Yemen's judicial system to provide fair trials and legal safeguards for detainees, as well as reports and confessions of torture by police investigators to extract confessions. Also, Yemen has one of the lowest birth registration rates in the world, with only 22 percent of births between 2000-2010 reported. Thus, most juvenile offenders lack official birth certificates documenting their age. However, international law prohibits executing individuals for crimes committed before age 18. When courts cannot conclusively establish an offender's age when the alleged crime happened, international law indicates a death sentence cannot be imposed.
Yemen is the fifth country in the world for the highest number of executions, and has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations. In February Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on Yemeni forces [JURIST report] to observe peace and restraint during scheduled protest marches, but the security forces fired on protesters despite AI's plea. Also in February HRW said Yemen authorities failed to investigate top officials [JURIST report] in the shooting deaths of 45 anti-government demonstrators killed in the country's "Friday of Dignity Massacre" in March 2011. In December AI reported a series of gross human rights abuses committed by Yemen's government forces and al Qaeda affiliates during the 2011-2012 conflict over control of the country's southern region of Abyan. Amid fervent protests in April 2011, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down from power [JURIST report], ending his 32-year reign as the nation's leader, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Earlier that month AI released a report urging the international community [JURIST report] to pressure Yemeni authorities to investigate the deaths of protesters.