GENEVA, Switzerland - A wave of executions in cities across Saudi Arabia on Tuesday has brought a sharp rebuke from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
Amid allegations that confessions were obtained through torture, she voiced concern over a lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, and said it was "particularly abhorrent" that at the time of their sentencing, at least three of those executed were minors found guilty of taking part in protests against the Saudi authorities.
Saudi Arabia ignored repeated appeals by the United Nations human rights system, by proceeding with the beheading of 37 men.
"I strongly condemn these shocking mass executions across six cities in Saudi Arabia yesterday in spite of grave concerns raised about these cases by numerous UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and others," Bachelet said in a statement, released on Wednesday.
"I urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to immediately launch a review of its counter-terrorism legislation and amend the law to expressly prohibit the imposition of the death penalty against minors," said Bachelet.
The Saudi State-run news agency on Tuesday said the 37 men executed had been charged with adopting "extremist, terrorist ideology" and forming terrorist cells "to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord." They were reportedly accused of "cooperating with hostile parties in a way that damaged the high interests of the homeland."
Most of the men belonged to the Shi’a Muslim minority and one of their bodies was subsequently put on public display. In several of the cases, various UN human rights experts had raised serious concerns over their treatment, with the authorities.
Beginning in 2013, eleven of those beheaded had reportedly been arrested for spying for Iran, some of whose lawyers boycotted the proceedings because they had been denied access to their clients and case files. Others were detained for anti-Government protests.
The UN rights commissioner also expressed deep concern for the fate of those who remain on death row, including Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdulla al-Zaher, whose cases have also been taken up by the UN human rights system.
"I appeal to the authorities to halt the pending executions and to engage constructively with the UN Human Rights Office and independent experts on the many concerns related to the imposition of the death penalty in the country," she said.
The High Commissioner said Saudi Arabia should be mindful of its obligations to respect international human rights law, particularly as a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture.