Saudi Arabia’s record execution of 81 people in a single day condemned by IBAHRI

Wednesday 16 March 2022

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) strongly condemns the mass execution of 81 people in a single day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The executions took place on Saturday 12 March 2022. It is the largest known mass execution in the country’s modern period. A reported 41 of those executed belonged to the Shiite minority and had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘We cannot ignore the egregious human rights violations being carried out by Saudi Arabia. State killings on such a large scale is not only reproachful, but it also reflects blatant disregard for human rights and bears a chilling resemblance to the mass execution of 33 Shias in 2019 for their participation in the 2011-2012 protests. We call upon the State to take all necessary steps to abolish the death penalty, and to ensure fair trials and due process guarantees.’

The state news agency, Saudi Press Agency, reported that the individuals were executed for heinous crimes including ‘terrorism-related’ offences. In Saudi Arabia, offences such as terrorism are defined broadly, enabling human rights defenders and political dissidents to be charged on vague grounds. Under Article 6 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which Saudi Arabia has acceded, the death penalty may only be imposed for ‘the most serious crimes’.

In the context of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has held that offences that cannot be characterised as ‘the most serious’ include activities of a political nature and that the death penalty cannot be imposed based on vaguely defined criminal provisions that depend on subjective or discretionary considerations, the application of which is not reasonably foreseeable.

Death sentences are known to be imposed after proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards in Saudi Arabia, which has a dismal record of respecting defendants’ fair trial and due process rights. Detainees are known to be held incommunicado for long periods, denied adequate legal representation and tried in secret. Many of these individuals are arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

IBAHRI Co-chair Mark Stephens CBE stated: ‘The death penalty is as illegal as it is a despicable practice. States must not violate the most fundamental human right - the right to life - with unlawful judicial killings. The IBAHRI calls on Saudi Arabia to cease the use of its abhorrent practice of public beheadings, as an instrument to silence government critics and discriminate against religious minorities and to immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition.’

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, IBAHRI Director and author of the report A Perverse and Ominous Enterprise: The Death Penalty and Illegal Executions in Saudi Arabia, commented: ‘No nation should deprive its citizens of the fundamental rights to fair trials and life. Saudi Arabia continues to ridicule the world through the brutal wholesale execution of individuals for what is seemingly tantamount to belonging to a religious minority or for simply expressing an opinion divergent to that of the nation’s rulers. When the world’s leaders do not send strong vocal messages of condemnation to Saudi Arabia, their silence provides implicit approval.’

In addition, the IBAHRI urges:

  • The immediate establishment of an independent and impartial fact-finding mission and UN investigation to look into violations of law.
  • Urgent action by UN Special Rapporteurs under the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violations of law, issue communications demanding that Saudi Arabia remedy all past violations and take meaningful steps to prevent all prospective violations;
  • Diplomatic and political pressure by the international community, including through objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting any major event, unless the executions are halted and human rights standards observed;
  • Saudi Arabia to publish comprehensive, reliable, and up to date information about the number and identities of persons on death row, together with an explanation of the specific conduct for which the death penalty was imposed; and the
    Immediate release of the remains of the 41 individuals who have been unlawfully killed to their families.

Saudi Arabia consistently ranks as one of the highest executing countries in the world. Records show that there were 27 executions in 2020 and 67 executions in 2021. Previously, the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia was in January 2016, when 47 people were executed.



Notes to the Editor

  1. On 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty.
  2. Related material:
  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  4. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
  6. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Website page link for this news release:
Short link: tinyurl.com/3n2x7pnf
Full link: www.ibanet.org/Saudi-Arabias-record-execution-of-81-people-in-a-single-day-condemned-by-IBAHRI