UN rights experts urge Saudi Arabia to halt ‘stream of executions, beheadings’

9 September 2014

Two United Nations independent human rights experts today renewed their call on Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty amid a reported increase in executions, many of them by beheading.

“Beheading as a form of execution is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and prohibited under international law under all circumstances,” said Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“Despite several calls by human rights bodies, Saudi Arabia continues to execute individuals with appalling regularity and in flagrant disregard of international law standards,” said Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“The trials are by all accounts grossly unfair. Defendants are often not allowed a lawyer and death sentences were imposed following confessions obtained under torture. The method of execution then aggravates a situation that is already totally unacceptable,” the experts said in a press release from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

According to the experts, so far in 2014, at least 45 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia. Between 4 and 22 August, 22 people were executed, which represents an average of one execution per day. These included at least eight people beheaded for non-violent crimes including drug-smuggling and sorcery. Other offences resulting in beheading have reportedly included adultery and apostasy.

“The practice of beheading, especially after unfair trials for crimes that may not carry the death penalty under international law is shocking and grossly inappropriate," the experts said. They urged the authorities of Saudi Arabia to comply with international human rights standards.

They called on the Government of Saudi Arabia to stop all executions, and in particular to cease immediately the use of beheadings or other such forms of execution that shock the conscience of humanity.

Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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