IBAHRI welcomes Saudi Arabia’s move towards total abolition of the death penalty

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) welcomes King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia’s order to abolish the practice of flogging and the application of the death penalty for crimes committed by minors. On 25 April, the Supreme Court announced the abolishment of flogging as a punishment. The next day, the President of the Saudi Arabian government’s Human Rights Commission Mr Awwad Alawwad, confirmed the decision to abolish the death penalty for minors in a statement. This historic move marks a step in the right direction towards the total abolition of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented:‘King Salman’s order is welcomed by the IBAHRI. However, we urge Saudi Arabia to take further action towards the total abolition of the death penalty. In 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted the Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, maintaining that capital punishment is illegal under all justice systems of international law. The continued use of the death penalty and other violations of fundamental human rights in Saudi Arabia must come to an end.’

The declaration from the Saudi Arabian government could save the lives of six men awaiting execution for alleged crimes committed whilst they were under the age of eighteen. The IBAHRI welcomes this development following previous intervention made by the organisation on 11 June 2019, condemning the potential execution of teenager Murtaja Qureiris who was arrested when he was 13 years old.

Whilst acknowledging this positive step, the IBAHRI recognises that further action must be taken to secure the rule of law in the country and ensure the total abolition of the death penalty. In an interview with TIME magazine in 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam pledged to reduce the number of people sentenced to death. Despite this, in 2019 a total of 184 people in the country were executed, an increase from the two previous years. A significant proportion of those sentenced to death are human rights activists, a number of whom were children at the time of their offences.


IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc, stated: ‘The death penalty is never an appropriate form of justice, least of all when it is applied to children. The right to life is a fundamental right under international law and Saudi Arabia must continue to make efforts to adhere to this. The Saudi Supreme Court has expressed a desire to “bring the kingdom into line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment,” but the country still has a long way to go to claim adherence with such norms.’

The right to life and the prohibition of its arbitrary deprivation is secured in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further to this, under Article 7 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights it is illegal to inflict the death penalty on a person under 18 years of age. As part of the statement on 25 April, the Supreme Court said that ‘human rights advances’ are included in reforms being pushed forward by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. In spite of this, there has been an increase in disproportionate punishment to crush dissent in the country.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, author of A Perverse and Ominous Enterprise: The Death Penalty and Illegal Executions in Saudi Arabia commented:‘Whilst we welcome these initial measures as a recognition of the special protections afforded to children under international human rights law, it does not go far enough. There is no justification for the application of the death penalty, regardless of the crime committed or the culprit. Saudi Arabia must recognise the right of all people to freedom from this arbitrary and inhumane form of punishment.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to ensuring that the international legal limitations on the application of the death penalty are observed. We do this by supporting action on a ban and producing reports and reviews of the death penalty’s use, as well as advocating for total abolition. The IBAHRI’s Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, adopted by the IBAHRI Council in 2008, commits IBAHRI to promoting the end of this practice.
  2. Click here to view related items on the IBAHRI’s work in Saudi Arabia: www.ibanet.org/Human_Rights_Institute/Work_by_regions/Middle_East/Saudi-Arabia
  3. 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 IBAHRI, an autonomous and financially independent entity, works 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. IBAHRI Co-Chair The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG was a Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009) and has previously held international posts including as Chair of the UN Human Rights Council on North Korea (2013-2014).
  5. IBAHRI Co-Chair Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc is the Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association (2000-2019) and has held a number of assignments including as an ad hoc judge of the European Court of Justice.

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