UN watchdog demands Saudis stop child executions

Geneva (AFP) - UN rights experts demanded Friday that Saudi Arabia immediately overturn laws allowing for the execution of children, and for punishments of minors including stonings, amputations and flogging.

In a report on the plight of children in the wealthy Gulf state, a UN committee took Riyadh to task for allowing minors to be sentenced as adults, including to harsh corporal punishment and even the death penalty.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child also criticised what it called Saudi Arabia's systematic discrimination against girls, who are not considered full subjects, and who can be married off as early as nine years of age.

In its report, the committee expressed its "deepest concern" that Saudi Arabia "tries children above 15 years as adults and continues to sentence to death and to execute persons for offences that they allegedly committed when they were under the age of 18".

The committee, which is composed of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, pointed to a number of cases where minors had been sentenced to death.

It said that at least four of the 47 people executed on January 2 this year were under 18 when they were sentenced to death.

And it demanded that Riyadh "immediately halt the execution" of those currently on death row who allegedly committed their crimes when they were minors, including Ali Mohammed Baqr al-Nimr, Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, and Salman Bin Ameen Bin Salman Al-Qureish.

- 'Starvation' tactics in Yemen -

Committee chairman Benyam Mezmur told reporters Saudi Arabia was only one of five countries, alongside China, Iran, Pakistan, and the Maldives, where child rights experts had ever needed to raise concerns about executions.

"This is a very, very serious issue," he said.

The committee also demanded that Saudi Arabia immediately repeal laws permitting "the stoning, amputation and flogging of children".

A major problem, according to the committee, is that the country leaves it up to judges to determine whether a person can be treated as an adult.

This is not only a problem in the criminal justice system. The committee pointed out "that judges frequently authorise girls who have attained puberty to marry," as of the age of nine.

The committee also condemned the Saudi-led coalition for carrying out air strikes in Yemen, pointing out that the bombing has killed and maimed hundreds of children, and destroyed schools.

It charged that the coalition had used "prohibited tactics" like "starvation as a method of warfare" in Yemen, and backed calls for an international, independent investigation.