Comment by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on execution of 81 people in Saudi Arabia


I condemn Saudi Arabia’s mass execution on Saturday of 81 people on terrorism-related charges.

Among those beheaded on 12 March, I understand that 41 belonged to the Shiite minority, and had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012 calling for greater political participation. A further seven were Yemenis and one was a Syrian national.

Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law. I am also concerned that some of the executions appear to be linked to the on-going armed conflict in Yemen. Implementation of death sentences following trials that do not offer the required fair trial guarantees is prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.

Saturday’s executions – in one day alone – surpass the total of 67 executions that reportedly took place in the whole of 2021.

The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights and dignity, the right to life and the prohibition of torture. Failure to provide relatives with information on the circumstances of the executions may amount to torture and ill-treatment. Authorities should return the bodies of those executed to their families.

I am concerned that Saudi legislation contains an extremely broad definition of terrorism, including non-violent acts that supposedly “endanger national unity” or “undermine the State’s reputation”. This risks criminalizing people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Despite a global move away from the death penalty, Saudi Arabia is among some 38 countries that continue to implement it. I call on the Saudi authorities to halt all executions, immediately establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and commute the death sentences against those on death row.

I also urge the Saudi authorities to bring the country’s counterterrorism laws fully into line with international standards.

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