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Saudi Arabia: Authorities extra judicially execute two people with a car explosion in an unprecedented step

The picture on the right is Fadl Abdullah al-Hamadeh and on the left is Mohamed Hasan al-Suweymel

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On the evening of 1 June 2017, the Saudi Arabian authorities extra judicially executed two people they had listed as wanted suspects in the Qatif Governorate of the country’s Eastern Province.

It is the first time that the Saudi authorities have resorted to explosives to extra judicially execute people in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where since 2011 they have used extrajudicial executions and targeted assassinations to kill at least seven other people, typically with machine guns during surprise raids of houses or public spaces.

The authorities have also killed dozens of others through executions after grossly unfair trials where evidence was commonly and solely based on confessions extracted under torture and other ill-treatment.

Witnesses described to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights seeing the explosion that destroyed the car which both Mohamed Hasan al-Suweymel and Fadl Abdullah al-Hamadeh had boarded seconds earlier on the evening of Thursday, 1 June. Images on social media showed the car on fire on King Abdulaziz Street in Qatif, locally known as the “Revolution Street” for the large number of demonstrations it has been witnessing against the authorities since 2011.

Witnesses also reported that security forces and armored vehicles arrived at the scene immediately after the explosion, and raided the nearby stores and confiscated video recordings of store cameras that might have caught the moment of the explosion.

The next day, on 2 June, the Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a statement titled “Car used in terror crimes damaged, 2 individuals killed”, in which it claimed that the “authorities took necessary action” towards the car “which was reported stolen… and used in committing terrorist and criminal crimes”, and that in the process “The car was damaged, caught fire and exploded.” It further added that although “The security authorities are still investigating the incident… Preliminary inspection revealed firearms and ammunition in the car explosion site, some of which exploded as a result of the fire.”

Neither in this case, nor in similar previous cases where people were killed in targeted attempts, have the authorities attempted to explain steps taken to bring to justice those accused of such crimes short of killing them, as they are required to do under international law and principles. Paragraph 1 of the “Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions,” adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council on 24 May 1989 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1989 in resolution 44/16, clearly states that extrajudicial executions “shall not be carried out under any circumstances including, but not limited to, situations of internal armed conflict, excessive or illegal use of force…”

When it comes to using lethal force, the United Nations “Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials”, adopted by the UN General Assembly without a vote on 17 December 1979 in resolution 34/169, requires in Article 3 that “Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.” Principle 9 of the UN “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials”, adopted by the “Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders” on 7 September 1990, states that “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

This latest extrajudicial execution on 2 June came as part of a renewed campaign of crackdown on anti-government activists that the Saudi authorities have been carrying out with impunity since 2011 in the largely Shia populated Eastern Province. The crackdown took a turn towards the worse in May 2017 when the Saudi security and armed forces launched military operations on residential areas in the Qatif under the guise of infrastructure rehabilitation, or chasing wanted suspects, or fighting terrorism. In the process, the authorities continued to commit gross human rights violations by using excessive force and causing death and injury to dozens of residents and large-scale destruction to whole neighborhoods, houses, cars and other private property.

In none of these incidents where gross human rights violations were committed have the authorities acknowledged errors or violations, or attempted to carry out thorough and impartial investigations to hold accountable officials or security officers and personnel who are reported to have carried out these violations. 

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights demands that the Saudi Arabian authorities immediately put an end to the large number of gross and systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions in the Qatif and the Eastern Province, and that they hold accountable all those responsible for ordering and otherwise committing these violations regardless of their position in the chain of command.

The organization however strongly believes that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have demonstrated persistent lack of will and capacity to fulfill their obligations under international law and standards, and even to apply national laws equally. It reminds Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West and the Human Rights Council of the obligations of their ally and a Human Rights Council member state, whose authorities continue to commit gross and systematic human rights violations with complete impunity and their silent acquiescence, and active support in some cases.

The organization therefore urges the international community to insist that the Saudi authorities fulfill their obligations under international and national law.

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