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SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen has executed at least 15 young male and female offenders, all aged under 18 when they committed the offences, in the last five years, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, urging the government to halt such executions.
The New York-based group also called on President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to reverse the execution orders of three juveniles on death row, whose appeals have been exhausted.
"Sending child offenders before firing squads is hardly the way for Yemen to show that it respects human rights," said Priyanka Motaparthy, children's rights researcher at HRW.
In a 30-page report, HRW cited the case of Hind al-Barti, executed by a government firing squad in Sanaa on murder charges. The group said the young woman's birth certificate showed she was 15 at the time of the alleged murder.
Barti told HRW in March 2012 that she had made a false confession after police officers beat her and threatened her with rape. Government authorities only gave her family a few hours' notice before her execution.
"There is strong evidence that Hind al-Barti was just a girl when she was accused of murder, yet she was sentenced - and received - the ultimate punishment," said Motaparthy.
"The Yemeni government should have reduced her sentence if there was any reason to believe she was under 18 at the time of the crime."
HRW said several other juvenile offenders it interviewed said they had faced threats, physical abuse and torture in custody, which they said led them to make false confessions.
Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour said Yemeni law prohibited the execution of offenders under the age of 18, but that people often lacked birth certificates to prove their age.
"Problems happen during procedures, during trials, where they treat the young offender as a fully responsible adult," Mashhour told Reuters, when asked about the HRW report.
"When rulings are issued and we, as Ministry of Human Rights, intervene, the judiciary consider our action as interference by the executive branch in their work."
Hadi, who took office a year ago after popular protests forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, is trying to reassert government authority in a nation that was lawless, chaotic and impoverished even before the political upheaval.
An official of a Yemeni group, the Seyaj Organisation for Childhood Protection, said it had managed to get the execution of an alleged child offender halted on Wednesday at the last minute after contacting Hadi. The juvenile, Mohammed Abdulkarim Hazaa, was not among the three named by HRW as on death row.
Reporting by Abdulrahman Al Ansi in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Alistair Lyon