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UN rights chief condemns executions in Saudi Arabia

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday condemned [press release] the executions of seven people in Saudi Arabia as a violation of international safeguards on the use of the death penalty. The men were executed by firing squad [Al Jazeera report] after convictions for theft, looting and armed robbery. The seven were arrested in 2006 and sentenced to death in 2009. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] had previously urged [press release] King Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to intervene, as two of the seven convicted were under 18 at the time the crime was committed. Pillay expressed different concerns about the execution:

Under international safeguards adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and reaffirmed by the General Assembly, capital punishment may be imposed only for "the most serious crimes" and only after the most rigorous judicial process. As I pointed out to the Government of Saudi Arabia before the men were executed, neither of those fundamental criteria appear to have been fulfilled in these cases. The term "most serious crimes" has been interpreted to mean that the death penalty—in the relatively few countries where it is still used—should only be applied to the crime of murder or intentional killing. In this particular case, no crime of murder or intentional killing was committed. Thus, the use of the death penalty in these seven cases constitutes violations of the international safeguards in the use of the death penalty. I am also extremely concerned that the death sentences were imposed largely based on initial confessions allegedly extracted under torture, and that the allegations of torture were not investigated. Such acts constitute a violation of international human rights law, as well as customary law that prohibits the use of torture.
Pillay concluded her statement by urging Saudi Arabian authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia has recently come under international scrutiny for multiple perceived human rights violations, particularly for conducting unfair trials against human rights activists. Earlier this month, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced two human rights activists to ten years in prison. A Saudi Arabian court in January convicted [JURIST report] prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi of smuggling drugs and sentenced him to five years imprisonment and 300 lashes. El-Gezawi's arrest sparked protests by those who believe the activist was arrested for insulting King Abdullah. In December, HRW urged Saudi Arabia to drop apostasy charges [JURIST report] against a website editor who co-founded the religious discussion website Free Saudi Liberals, claiming that his arrest violated his right to freedom of expression. In August several international human rights groups sent a letter to the Saudi Ministry of Justice [official website, in Arabic] seeking to observe the trials of four rights activists [JURIST report] who faced charges of defaming the country's reputation, supporting international human rights groups and sparking demonstrations against the government.

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