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April Massacre:Saudi Turns a Deaf Ear to the International Community in its Wanton Application of the Death Penalty

لقرائته بالعربية إضغط هنا

Saudi Arabia claims to adhere to international laws, treaties and regulations that it has ratified, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Treatment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It has also repeated on many occasions that it respects the Human Rights Council and cooperates with all of its mechanisms.

On 23 April 2020, the Saudi government killed 37 persons in a mass execution of children and individuals accused of crimes related to the exercise of legitimate rights. A number of individuals who were executed had seen their cases brought up by the UN Special Rapporteurs, who demanded the protection of children from cruel punishment, or the investigation of allegations of torture and ensuring access to the right to fair trials.

Internationalist positions before the implementation:

Abdul Karim al-Hawaj, Mojtaba al-Swaiket, and Salman al-Quraysh

On 11 October 2018, UN Special Rapporteurs sent a communication to the Saudi government in which they referred to the case of 6 individuals who were minors at the time of the charges, who were facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Among them were Abdul Karim al-Hawaj, Mojtaba al-Swaiket, and Salman al-Quraysh. They were subsequently executed as part of a mass execution.

Spy cell

On 8 February 2018, the UN Special Rapporteurs sent a communication about 32 detainees facing various types of violations, including Abbas al-Hassan and 14 detainees in the same case. The letter raised fears of the violations of the human rights of the detainees. Despite the concerns raised, Saudi Arabia was satisfied with a misleading response and implemented the sentences against the detainees.

Abbas Al-Hassan

On 15 March 2018, United Nations experts expressed in a public statement their concern about the imminent death penalty facing the detainee Abbas al-Hassan, among others, after he was accused of spying for Iran, financing terrorism and spreading Shi’a faith in Saudi Arabia. The experts called on the government to nullify the punishment.

14th cell

On 28 July 2017, the Special Rapporteurs sent a communication to the Saudi government regarding the imminent execution of 17 people convicted of protest charges and on the basis of trials that did not meet fair trial standards and due process guarantees, including allegations of confessions extracted under torture, as well as allegations of violations of other human rights. iThe communication mentioned Munir al-Adam, Mujtaba al-Swaiket, Hussain al-Rabee, Abdullah al-Tarif, Mustafa al-Darwish, Saeed al-Skafi, Fadel al-Labbad, Abdul Aziz Sahwi, Ahmed al-Rabie, and Haider  al-Leef, all of whom were executed in the mass execution.

Mojtaba al-Suwaiket

On 21 November 2016, the Special Rapporteurs sent a communication to the Saudi government on the case of the young Mujtaba al-Swaiket, who was sentenced to death on charges that occurred as a child and relating to the exercise of legitimate rights.

Munir Al-Adam and Mojtaba Al-Swaiket

In September 2016, the Special Rapporteurs sent a communication to the Saudi government on 6 cases of individuals whose information indicated torture, ill-treatment, lack of investigation into abuse, and unfair prosecution, including Munir al-Adam and Mojtaba al-Swaikat.

Munir al-Adam

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), during its twentieth session in July-September 2018, issued a resolution on the issue of the Saudi citizen Munir al-Adam, stating that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia violated its obligations under the Law to Protect Persons with Disabilities and calling on it to provide effective remedies, including the investigation of allegations of torture.


In its final report, the Committee on the Rights of the Child called on Saudi Arabia to immediately cease the practice of executing individuals under the age of 18 when the charge was committed, including Salman al-Quraish, al-Suwaiket, and Abdul Karim al-Hawaj.

International positions after the implementation of the ruling:

The mass executions prompted worldwide criticism of Saudi Arabia. The clear violations of international laws and the blatant disregard of previous positions and messages shocked the international community.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet strongly condemned the executions, which she said occurred despite repeated concerns expressed by the United Nations Human Rights Council about the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees and allegations obtained through torture. In particular, Bachelet confirmed that “at least three of the dead were minors at the time of the alleged crime,” and also expressed “deep concern about the fate of those still awaiting execution, including Ali al-Nimr, Daoud al-Marhoun and Abdullah al-Zahir.”

The European Union External Action Service issued a statement in response to the executions, stating that the execution of 37 people at the same time represented the largest number of executions in one day in Saudi Arabia since 2016 and confirmed the existence of a negative trend that contradicts the growing movement towards abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

In an opinion issued on 9 October 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at the United Nations expressed its dissatisfaction and anger at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Abdel al-Karim al-Hawaj and Munir al-Adam as part of the horrific April massacre of 37 people, especially since the Group had specifically called for ensuring their physical and mental integrity in August 2018. The WG pointed out that the Human Rights Council had requested states in its resolution No. 33/30, which Saudi Arabia voted in favour of, to take into account the views of the Working Group, and when necessary to take appropriate steps to correct the situation of people arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion on the case of Abbas al-Hassan, a Saudi citizen, who was arrested in 2013 and executed on 23 April 2019. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his detention was arbitrary, illegal, and contrary to his right to a fair trial and his right to freedom from torture and his right to life, among other matters. The Working Group also expressed “shock, awe and anger” on the issue of his execution, while the request for information addressed to the government was not decided. Finally, the Working Group called on the Saudi authorities to return his body to his family, which it has refused to do since his execution.

Current situation:

According to ESOHR documentation, at least 52 people are currently facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, including 13 persons who were children at the time of their alleged offence. Six of the individuals have seen final rulings in their cases, and their executions may be implemented at any moment, while 13 of them have seen preliminary rulings. The Public Prosecution Office is demanding that a further 32 people be executed.

Despite international criticism directed at Saudi Arabia both in the Human Rights Council and in other international fora, after the April massacre the Saudi government continued to implement the rulings, in total committing 185 further executions during the year 2019, the highest number known. This raises serious concerns for the lives of those currently threatened with death, especially with the Saudi government taking no steps to ensure that they have access to fair trials or to investigate allegations of torture that have been documented.

Internationally, UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly raised their concerns about the lives of four of the people currently under sentence of death, who may be considered influential personalities. On 29 November 2019, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs sent a message to the Saudi government on the cases of Dr. Ali al-Omari, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, researcher Hassan al-Maliki, and Sheikh Salman al-Awda, after receiving disturbing information about their exposure to a series of violations and seeing the Public Prosecution seek their death.

In addition, three individuals who are facing final death sentences, and several of those who were arrested while they were minors, were the subject of a number of UN communications addressed to the Saudi government alleging that they were tortured and demanding the annullation of their sentences and their retrial.

ESOHR stresses that the Saudi government has ignored international demands against its wanton implementation of the death penalty, and still refuses to hand over the bodies of the victims to their families despite the passage of one year since the killing. It also continues to threaten the lives of dozens more, which increases fears of a repeat of the scenario of the April 2019 massacre. This confirms the importance of taking urgent action to protect the rest of the victims by all available means, and holding the violators accountable, including by appointing a Special Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia that monitors all human rights violations, especially in regards to the death penalty.


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