Saudi Arabia has banned capital punishment for minors, its state-backed Human Rights Commission said in a statement. The decision of ending capital punishment comes days after the Saudi monarchy abolished flogging as a punishment.
The commission’s chairman Awwad Alawwad said that the latest reform of ending capital punishment for minors in Saudi Arabia would eliminate the death penalty for those convicted of crimes when they were minors.
Alawwad added that those individuals will instead receive a prison sentence for a maximum period of 10 years in a juvenile detention facility.
Human rights organization Amnesty International had repeatedly raised concerns over alarming rates of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia and has listed it as one of the world’s most prolific executioners behind Iran and China.
In its latest report, it said the kingdom had executed 184 people in 2019, including at least one person charged with a crime committed as a minor. Since January, 12 people have been executed, according to official data.
Capital Punishment In Saudi Arabia
Capital punishment for crimes committed by people under the age of 18 runs contrary to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child – which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
“This is an important day for Saudi Arabia,” Awwad Alawwad said. The decree is expected to spare lives of six juveniles from the minority Shiite community who were facing capital punishment for taking part in anti-government protests during the Arab Spring.
“The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms across all sectors of our country,” Alawwad said.
There is however a possible exception for people linked to terror-related crimes as minors. The conservative Islamic kingdom has no codified legal justice system in line with Sharia or Islamic laws, allowing individual judges to interpret religious texts and come up with their own verdict.
Such decisions have also come under criticism from International Human Rights groups that have questioned the fairness of such trials.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has overseen a series of social and economic reforms aimed at modernising the country. On Saturday, the country’s Human Rights Commission announced it was abolishing flogging as punishment. Criminals are set to now receive fines or prison terms instead.
Despite these reforms, Saudi Arabia still practices capital punishments in forms of brutal public executions and other forms of corporal punishment such as amputation for theft. The kingdom’s human rights record has also been widely criticized for the continued repression of dissidents and activists.
Awwad Alawwad said that the world can expect more reforms and that the two decisions show reflect that Saudi Arabia is forging ahead in its realisation of critical human rights reforms even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.