Posts Tagged ‘HRW’


Crown Prince Signals Possible Limit on Non-Murder Executions

Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people since the beginning of 2018, half of them for nonviolent drug crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Many more people convicted of drug crimes remain on death row following convictions by Saudi Arabia’s notoriously unfair criminal justice system.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said in an interview with Time magazine on April 5 that the Saudi authorities have a plan to decrease the number of executions, but that they would not limit executions to people convicted of murder. Nearly all executions in Saudi Arabia that are not for murder are for non-violent drug crimes.  The prince said the country would consider changing the penalty from death to life in prison in some cases, but not in murder cases.

It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia executes so many people, but many of them have not committed a violent crime, said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Any plan to limit drug executions needs to include improvements to a justice system that doesn’t provide for fair trials.

Saudi Arabia has carried out nearly 600 executions since the beginning of 2014, over 200 of them in drug cases.  The vast majority of the remainder were for murder, but other offenses included rape, incest, terrorism, and “sorcery.” In Saudi Arabia, death sentences for murder are usually based on the Islamic law principle qisas, or eye-for-an-eye retributive punishment, while judges hand down death sentences for drugs at their own discretion (the Islamic law principle ta’zir). Judges rely on a 1987 fatwa by the country’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars prescribing the death penalty for any “drug smuggler” who brings drugs into the country, as well as provisions of the 2005 Law on Combatting Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which prescribes the death penalty for drug smuggling.  The law allows for mitigated sentences in limited circumstances.

International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person is intentionally killed and not used to punish drug-related offenses.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which Saudi courts sentenced defendants to death following unfair trials. In one such case, a Saudi court sentenced a Jordanian man, Waleed al-Saqqar, to death in December 2014 for smuggling drugs across the Saudi border from Jordan in his truck.

Poor trials process

The judgment following al-Saqqar’s trial reveals that the trial lasted only one day, and a source with direct knowledge of the case told Human Rights Watch that the entire trial lasted about five minutes. The source said that a judge asked al-Saqqar to confirm his identity and state whether the truck belonged to him, then issued the death sentence. Al-Saqqar did not have a defense lawyer.  The source said that the judge did not allow al-Saqqar a chance to explain the circumstances, which he viewed as a mitigating factor.  The source said that in April 2013 al-Saqqar met a Saudi man at the Jordanian Free Zone near Zarqa city who offered to pay him 300,000 Saudi Riyals (US$80,000) to smuggle several bags of agricultural hormones to Saudi Arabia.  The Saudi man said that his workers were urgently waiting for them and would need them before he could get permission from the Saudi Heath and Agricultural Ministries to legally import them. Al-Saqqar agreed to the arrangement.

On April 11, 2013, Saudi authorities stopped al-Saqqar after he entered Saudi Arabia from Jordan at the al-Haditha border crossing and searched the truck.  According to the trial judgment, the authorities discovered 144,000 pills identified as captagon (fenethylline), a banned substance in Saudi Arabia. According to the official judgment al-Saqqar assisted Saudi authorities in an attempt to locate and apprehend the person inside Saudi Arabia responsible for receiving the drugs, but authorities were not able to apprehend him.  The source said that the case remains on appeal.

Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that makes it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases.  In cases Human Rights Watch has analyzed, authorities did not always inform suspects of the charges against them or allow them access to evidence, even after trial sessions began.  Authorities generally did not allow lawyers to assist suspects during interrogation and often impeded them from examining witnesses and presenting evidence at trial. The problems were compounded for non-Arabic speaking foreigners, who in the absence of a lawyer face overwhelming obstacles to understanding court procedures and submitting defence documents.

The Death Penalty Worldwide Database, which collects information on executions across the globe, shows that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world and applies the death penalty to a range of offenses that do not constitute “most serious crimes,” including drug offenses, adultery, sorcery, and apostasy. Saudi Arabia trails only Iran in the Middle East in in the number of its executions.  Saudi Arabia regularly features in our monthly reports.

Human Rights Watch along with Amnesty, opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.  In 2013, following similar resolutions in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the UN General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also called on countries to abolish the death penalty.

Text from Human Rights Watch – 24 April 2018

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British weapons being used to bomb civilians

This week we have been treated to speeches in Parliament and a great deal of press interest on the question of bombing Isis.  The political temperature rose after the terrible events in Paris and the indiscriminate killing of people sitting in cafés and at a pop concert.

The government would now like the UK to join in the bombing campaign against Isis positions and David Cameron gave a lengthy speech in Parliament setting out his justifications for that course of action.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another terrible conflict is in progress and yet this receives almost no coverage in the press.  Thousands have died (one estimate is 5,700) including an estimated 400 children, and airstrikes by Saudi Arabian forces are bombing the country on a daily basis.  Schools and hospitals are bombed and cluster bombs are being used in contravention of international treaties.

Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

The difference is that Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of our weapons – indeed an estimated half of all weapons sales by the UK go there – so they are an important customer.  Little is said to criticise them and readers of this blog will be aware of our attempts to get our government to take a more robust line in view of their multiple human rights abuses.

Amnesty and HRW have criticised the US government for agreeing to sell an unbelievable $1.3bn (£860m) of further ordinance to replenish stocks used in the campaign.  This is in breach of the Arms Trade Treaty since the weapons are being used against civilians.  Médecins sans Frontières report:

… ordinary people are bearing the brunt of an increasingly brutal conflict.  Severe water shortages combined with airstrikes, sniper attacks and a fuel blockade have rapidly turned this conflict into a humaniitarian crisis, with over one million people displaced from their homes.  The need for food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical care is growing daily.

Many clinics and hospitals have been destroyed, and those that are still functioning are in urgent need of more medical supplies.  Yemen: A country under siege

AI and Human Rights Watch are in no doubt that UK and US supplied munitions are being used to cause this mayhem in Yemen.  Up until now we have received nothing but bland assurances from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from our MP.  But recent events including changes to the Ministerial code and a downgrading of human rights in policy matters, seems to indicate that it is profit before humanity which is the key factor.

This might change because now that British made weaponry is turning up in Yemen thus causing some concern in the FCO.  They are beginning to question the wisdom of supplying the Saudis who then use the stuff to kill ordinary civilians.  We could just be indicted for war crimes.  They are also worried that we are helping create the conditions for an Isis type organisation to establish themselves in Yemen.

So while speeches are made about bombing Isis, we are busy supplying the weaponry to create another catastrophe on the Saudi peninsular…

Sources:

MSF;  The Independent;  Belfast Telegraph;  Business News;  HRW