The United Nations warns of the escalating use of the death penalty by the Saudi authorities

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed her concerns about the escalation of the use of the death penalty by several countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In her press conference days before the end of her term in office on August 31, 2022, Bachelet indicated that 170 countries have suspended or abolished the death penalty in law or practice but that some countries are escalating its use, including Saudi Arabia.

The High Commissioner’s reference to Saudi Arabia’s violations during her last press conference confirms its wide range of violations. It also comes as a culmination of sharp criticism levelled by Bachelet to Saudi Arabia during her tenure, which began in September 2018.

In her first speech before the Human Rights Council after assuming the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bachelet criticized Saudi practices.

During the opening of the thirty-ninth session of the Council on September 10, 2018, she expressed her concern about the campaign launched by the Saudi government against human rights defenders, especially women’s rights defenders.

She referred to the arrest of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada on July 30, 2018, and their incommunicado detention since then.

On April 24, 2019, Bachelet strongly condemned the mass execution of 37 people, despite repeated calls by the Human Rights Council for the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees.

It also confirmed that “at least three of the victims were minors at the time they committed the alleged crime” and expressed deep concern for the fate of those still on death row.

On February 27, 2020, while presenting the work of the Commission at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet called on Saudi Arabia to take advantage of this year’s G-20 summit in Riyadh to demonstrate progress in implementing its international human rights obligations.

It also called for a review of the sentences of all those convicted of speech-related charges, including human rights defenders, religious leaders and journalists.

On September 14 2020, during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner raised her deep concern about the continued arbitrary detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and called for their release without delay.

On February 27, 2021, Bachelet said that Saudi Arabia continues to detain individuals illegally and urged it to support freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.

In the context of discussions on the second item of the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet regretted the continued unjust detention of women.

On March 14, 2022, Bachelet condemned the mass execution by Saudi Arabia of 81 people. A statement indicated that 41 of those executed faced charges, including those related to participating in anti-government protests.

The High Commissioner explained that the monitoring confirmed that some of those executed were sentenced to death after trials that did not meet the conditions of justice and due process guarantees and for crimes that did not appear to be among the most severe crimes, as required by international law.

For its part, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights highlighted that Michelle Bachelet referred to Saudi Arabia’s repeated violations during her four-year tenure, especially concerning the death penalty.

The organization said that despite the high-level and sharp criticism, Saudi Arabia continued to implement the punishment and escalated it to carry out two mass executions and threaten the lives of dozens, including minors, in addition to arrests and restrictions on activists.

The organization considered that Saudi Arabia’s disregard for criticism confirms its disregard for international law and its commitments and obligations.

While the organization stressed the importance of continuing to criticize Saudi Arabia and its practices at all levels, the escalation in violations and ignoring criticism indicates that there is a need to find other ways that contribute to pushing Saudi Arabia to implement its commitments before the United Nations and to hold all violators accountable.

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