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UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Outraged at the Execution of al-Hawaj and Al Adam

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The Groupasserts that Saudi Arabia’s violation of its international obligations may constitute crimes against humanity

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed outrage at Saudi Arabia’s execution of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj and Munir Al Adamas part of its horrific mass execution of 37 people on April 23, 2019,even after calls in August 2018 to specifically ensure their physical and mental well-being.

In an opinion issued by the Working Group on October 9, 2019, it was indicated that Human Rights Council Resolution 33/30 – which Saudi Arabia voted in favor of – had requested member states to consider the views of the Working Group and, when necessary, take appropriate steps to remedy the situation of persons arbitrarily deprived of their freedom. This is what the Saudi government violated with the killing of Al Adam and al-Hawaj, despite having previously voted for the Resolution.

The Working Group stated that while arbitrary detention can be redressed by releasing a detainee and providing him with adequate compensation, there can be no such restoration of justiceonce he is dead.This raises the question of whether the implementation of death sentences for cases still under discussion between the UN and Saudi Arabia is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations as a member state. The Group also stressed thatSaudi Arabia is obligated to respect, protect and fulfill the right of its citizens to live in freedom in accordance with international standards.

In its issued opinion, the Working Group reportedthat over the 28 years of its investigations, Saudi Arabia had violated its international obligations on nearly 60 occasions. Previous resolutions had indicated that “under certain circumstances, [violations] may constitute imprisonment on a large scale or systematic basis, or other forms of severe deprivation of liberty, in violation of the norms of international law,whichamount to crimes against humanity.”


Details of the Case:

A resolution issued by the Working Group stated that Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was born on November 19, 1995 and was a minor at the time he was charged. Meanwhile, Munir Al Adam was born on August 24, 1992and was hearing impaired.

The resolutionoutlined the details of these two cases and the violations committed therein, which consisted ofsubjecting detainees to torture and denying them the right to a fair trial.It alsodescribed how the charges brought against them, including those related to expressing opinions and participating in demonstrations, led to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of issuing death sentencesfor them in 2017.

On August 2, 2018, the Working Group issued a complaint to Saudi Arabia, requesting the government to provide by October 1, 2018 detailed information on the cases of al-Hawaj and Al Adam as well as any comments on the violations they were being subject to. It also called on the government to ensure their physical and mental well-being.

In September 2018, the Saudi government responded to the Working Group, denying that Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was subjected to forced disappearance and claiming that detention centers were being monitored. It maintained al-Hawaj was only prevented from contacting the outside world for a specific period in the interest of the investigation and denied that he was tortured, citing the criminalization of torture in Saudi law.

Regarding the fact that al-Hawaj was 16 years old at the time of his alleged crimes, Saudi Arabia claimed that he had already assumed full criminal responsibility as he had reached the legal age to be tried as an adult. This contradictsthe Saudi government’s obligations according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it became party to in 1996.Riyadh responded by saying that al-Hawajwas given the right to defend himself and that Saudi judges do not rely solely on admissions of guilt, but rather take into accountother evidence before passing judgment.

The Saudi government further denied any discrimination against the Shiite minority, maintaining that all citizens are Muslims who enjoy equal rights regardless of their sect and that discrimination is a punishable offense.

With regard to the Munir Al Adam case, Saudi Arabia denied that he was handicapped, despite the fact that he completely lost hearing in one of his ears as a result of the torture he suffered.


Working Group Discussion (October 9, 2019):

Regarding the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the case of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, the Working Group noted that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had urged countries party to the Convention to revise existing legislation to ensure that all children up to the age of 18 have access to the protection they need. It was also indicated that the Committee had expressed concern to the Saudi authoritiesregarding the discretionary power judgeshave in determining the age of majority for a child. The Working Group held that the Saudi government could not withdraw from its international obligations under the Convention considering al-Hawaj’s age.

As for the application of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Al Adam, the Working Group indicated that the Committee on Persons with Disabilities considered the definition of persons with disabilities according to Saudi lawto be inconsistent with the Convention.It was further cited that the Saudigovernment provided no justification, medical evidence, or any other kind of material evidence to support its assertion that Mr. Al Adam’s hearing impairment and loss of hearing in one ear did not constitute a “handicap” according to the Convention.



  • The Working Group concluded that the deprivation of the life of Abdulkareem al-Hawajcontravened Articles 3, 5-11, 18-19, 20 (1), and 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 2, 13 (1), 14 (1), 15 (1), 24 (1), 37, and 40 (2) (a) (b) (i) – (4) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also its view that his detention and killing were arbitrary and fell into the first, second, third, and fifth categories of cases wherein detention is considered arbitrary according to the criteria of the Working Group.
  • Furthermore, the deprivation of the life and freedom of Munir Abdullah Ahmad Al Adam was said to have contravened Articles 3, 5-11, 18-19, 20 (1), and 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 3 (b), 10, 12 (1), 14 (1), and 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was stated that hisdetention and killing were arbitrary and fell into the first, second, third, and fifth categories of cases wherein detention is considered arbitrary according to the criteria of the Working Group.
  • The Working Group called on the Saudi government to take steps to redress the wrongs done to Mr. Al Adam and Mr. al-Hawajin accordance with international standards, which in this case would entail according their familiesan enforceable right to compensation.
  • The Working Group urged the government to ensure a full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of the liberty of Mr. al-Hawaj and Mr. Al Adam and to take appropriate action against those responsible for the violation of their rights.
  • The Working Group requested the government to revise its laws, especially those related to the imposition of the death penalty, the discretionary power given to judges to determine the age of majority, the operations of the Specialized Criminal Court, and the operations of the General Investigation Directorate. This was said to be necessary to ensure that these laws apply the conditions for fair trials in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s obligations in international law and codify the principles of criminal law, whose interpretationis currently left tothe discretionof judges.
  • The Working Group recommended that the government ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,along withtheir two optional protocols.
  • The Working Group requested the Saudi government to disseminate this opinion through all available means and as widely as possible.


Follow-up Actions:

In accordance with Paragraph 20 of its working methods, the Working Group requested the source and the government to provide it with information on the actions taken to follow up on the recommendations presented in this opinion. Such information included whether other forms of compensation had been given to the families of al-Hawaj and Al Adam, whether an investigation had been carried out into violations committed, and if the results of the investigation were shared. It also requested to know if any legislative amendments or changes in practice were made to align Saudi Arabia’s laws and practices with its international obligations in accordance with this opinion.

The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights welcomes the opinion issued by the Working Group in the cases of bothAbdulkareem al-Hawaj and Munir Al Adam, which have shed light on the true nature of the Saudi government’s engagement with UN mechanisms and the false claims it has made about its respect for international laws and obligations. The Organisationemphasizes the need to pursue the follow-up actions called for by the Working Group, especially considering that the Saudi authorities have hidden the bodies of these two young men and that of 81 other individuals who were executed or extrajudicially killed,prolonging the suffering of the victims.

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