The United Nations’ expert on torture has condemned the use of the death penalty in countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, saying executions are “tantamount to torture”, and barred by international law.
In his annual report to the UN’s Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, criticized several countries for their increased use of death sentences and executions, saying it was becoming clear that the practice amounts to torture, and is a breach of international law. Mr Mendez raised particular concerns over the execution of juveniles in countries such as Saudi Arabia, as well as the use of the death penalty in relation to political protests or drug offences.
In Saudi Arabia, Mr Mendez “expressed grave concerns” about the planned execution of Dawoud al-Marhoon, who was a juvenile when he was arrested at a 2012 Saudi political protest. Dawoud is currently held with two other juveniles, Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher; all three were sentenced to death on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted under torture.
In Egypt – where, since taking power in 2013, the government has handed down hundreds of death sentences to political protestors – Mr Mendez “strongly urge[d]” the authorities “to refrain from executing” 188 people who were sentenced to death in a recent mass trial. International human rights organization Reprieve has previously raised concerns over the use of the death penalty, torture and mass trials in Egypt, including in the case of Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa. Mr Mendez called on the government to end the use of torture, and to “refrain from, and abolish” the death penalty overall.
The expert report also includes concerns over the case of British man Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, who was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 in Ethiopia, and subsequently kidnapped and rendered to the country in 2014. Mr Tsege has been prevented from accessing his family, a lawyer or regular UK consular assistance. In today’s report, Mr Mendez condemned the Ethiopian government for “subjecting Mr. Tsege to torture, ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention”, for “denying him access to adequate medical care and legal process”, and for “sentencing him to death without due process for a non-violent crime.” Reprieve has urged the British government to do more to secure Mr Tsege’s release.
Mr Mendez also raised fears over the use of the death penalty in Iran, where it was revealed today that the authorities are planning to execute some 100 prisoners convicted of alleged drug offences. Iran is among the world’s most prolific executioners, and in recent years the government has hanged large numbers of people for non-violent drug offences – including juveniles and political protestors. Reprieve has called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – which oversees funding for Iran’s drug police – to end its support until the government calls a halt to drug-related executions.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “This report makes it very clear – the death penalty is illegal, immoral and ineffective, and should be consigned to history. Governments that use sweeping death sentences, alongside torture and arbitrary detention, to crush dissent – including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Ethiopia – must take note. Meanwhile, other countries must strongly urge an end to executions, once and for all.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”