GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights watchdog has called on Saudi Arabia to end “severe” discrimination against girls and to repeal laws it said allowed children to be executed by stoning or punished with amputations and floggings.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child on Friday issued the conclusions of its review of the kingdom’s record of compliance with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. States which ratify the pact are reviewed every few years.
Children over 15 years are tried as adults in Saudi Arabia and can be executed, “after trials falling short of guarantees of due process and fair trial”, the report said. The UN convention defines children as under-18s.
“The possibility of imposing the death penalty on children is still in place and that is a very serious concern,” Jorge Cardona, a member of the committee, told a news briefing.
“But also the possibility of sanctions and mistreatment, including torture, such as the possibility of being flogged or other punishments that are especially harsh.”
Committee chair Benyam Mezmur said it had received consistent reports that the death penalty was applied for offences committed by under-18s.
“It’s a very serious issue and there are only four or five countries in the world that we engage with this issue on and unfortunately Saudi Arabia is actually one of them,” he said, naming the others as Iran, Pakistan, China and the Maldives.
The 18 independent experts who make up the committee also condemned air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen, which it said had killed and maimed hundreds of children.
There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi government to the conclusions issued on Friday despite multiple attempts by Reuters to reach officials. Many of the recommendations have been repeated since Riyadh ratified the convention 20 years ago, Cardona said.
Bandar Bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, chairman of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, who led a Saudi delegation to the committee’s review, told the body that “Islamic sharia (law) was above all laws and treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, according to a U.N. summary of the review last month.
But the kingdom had the “political will” to “promote all human rights and particularly the rights of children”, he said.
“It is the interpretation of sharia made by Saudi Arabia in certain cases that poses a concrete problem for rights protected by the convention,” said Cardona.
The U.N. panel criticised the marriage of girls as young as nine. “The age of majority is nine or 10 years, and that poses a serious problem for girls,” Cardona said.
The U.N. experts said Riyadh “still does not recognise girls as full subjects of rights and continues to severely discriminate (against) them in law and practice and to impose on them a system of male guardianship”.
Traditional, religious or cultural attitudes should not be used to justify violations of the right to equality, they said.
Of 47 people executed for security offences on Jan. 2, 2016, at least four were under 18 when sentenced to death, it said.
At least four other people, convicted of committing crimes as children, are on death row, Cardona said.
The experts urged Saudi authorities to “repeal all provisions contained in legislation which authorise the stoning, amputation and flogging of children”.
Editing by Andrew Roche