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Thu 11 Sep 2014 02:02 PM

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UN experts call for suspension of 'degrading' Saudi executions

Two independent human rights experts say the kingdom is acting ‘appallingly’ and in flagrant disregard of international law

UN experts call for suspension of 'degrading' Saudi executions

Two United Nations independent human rights experts have renewed their call for Saudi Arabia to immediately suspend the use of the death penalty amid a reported increase in executions, many of them by beheading.

At least 45 people have been executed so far this year, including 22 during a three-week period in August, according to government statements published by the Saudi News Agency and information obtained by the UN.

The UN experts’ call follows that of several international human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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

Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the kingdom had ignored “several calls” by human rights bodies and many of the executions had taken place following “grossly unfair” trials.

“…Saudi Arabia continues to execute individuals with appalling regularity and in flagrant disregard of international law standards,” Heyns said.

“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.”

Between August 4-22, 22 people were executed, which represents an average of one execution per day, the UN experts said in a statement.

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 and called on the Saudi government, led by King Abdullah, to stop all executions, and in particular to immediately suspend the use of beheadings or other such forms of execution that “shock the conscience of humanity”.

Heynes and Méndez were appointed as independent experts by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report specifically on executions in Saudi Arabia. Their positions are honorary and they are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.