The Right to life and child rights: the need to end juvenile executions worldwide

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, in conjunction with the legal action charity REPRIEVE, held a Parliamentary panel discussion on 18 July 2018, on Juvenile Executions in the World Today.

We would like to thank Baroness Stern for chairing this event.

The speakers were:

  • Dr. Agnes Callamard (AC)UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Summary or Extrajudicial Executions;
  • Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam (MA) Co-founder and spokesperson, Iran Human Rights;
  • Ali al-Dubaisy (AD)Director, European Saudi Organization for Human Rights;
  • Soraya Bauwens (SB)MENA Regional Lead, Reprieve UK

The main points were:

  • In many cases, young people (whether legally deemed to be adults or children) are sentenced to death on charges connected to blasphemy laws and other religious and/or political offences. Even when they are sentenced for common crimes, their rights to due process are usually violated, with lack of access to legal representation, being held in terrible conditions, etc. Young people being tried for crimes attracting the death penalty tend to come from vulnerable backgrounds and/or have experienced serious trauma, which results in them being easily overpowered by the authority of the state. (AC)
  • While most countries recognise children have particular rights and should be tried for crimes under special legal frameworks, there is almost, but not quite yet, total acceptance that the death penalty should never be applied to children (though it is prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child). (AC)
  • The international community must do more to advocate for the rights of children and the total prohibition of the application of the death penalty to children through all diplomatic means possible. The UK, in particular, should make further use of its soft power and moral compass in its bilateral relations, including with Saudi Arabia. Greater engagement with faith leaders, and others with moral authority, is another possible avenue for action. (AC)
  • There is room for pressure to be applied through both multilateral fora and bilateral relationships, though the former processes allow for more transparency, and the emergence of a global consensus and international norms. (AC)    
  • International pressure is important. Executions for drug-related charges were increasing in Iran but more recently pressure from CSOs and other States led to reform, with the number of yearly executions now down. The same can be done in respect of juvenile executions, because the political cost of such executions is high. (MA)
  • Since the 1990s, Iran is believed to have executed over 100 juvenile offenders, likely to be the highest number of juvenile executions in the world (though because of the lack of transparency as to the numbers of executions, including juveniles, in many countries, e.g., China, it is impossible to be certain). The majority of victims are from marginalised sections of society, and mostly convicted of murder, often in connection with street fights. Some are executed following drug-related convictions. Due process is rarely upheld, with the evidence threshold low. In some cases, children are arrested, convicted and sentenced before the age of adulthood, and executed after reaching it. (MA)
  • So far, 4 juveniles have been executed in 2018, while others remain in Iran in imminent danger of being executed. (MA)
  • The international community advocated for and helped obtain legal reform in Iran, such that if a juvenile person is sentenced for a crime carrying the death sentence under Sha’ria law or for murder, the judge may decide the death penalty is not applicable if the accused is not deemed to have the requisite mental responsibility or maturity (Article 91 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code). This reform, however, has been used arbitrarily and has not led to a reduction in the number of juvenile executions. (MA)
  • The death penalty is applied to instill fear, and is a political tactic. The people who are easiest to target and use as examples are those belonging to marginalised communities – e.g., Pakistani immigrants; young women. (MA)
  • The Iranian Government argues it cannot change Sha’ria law and, therefore, that it has to apply the death penalty. There is much evidence, however, showing Sha’ria has been changed in the past.(MA)
  • Iran should be criticised for its use of the death penalty against juveniles in bilateral dialogues, as well as at the UN, and ending its use should be a condition for up-grading economic relations. (MA)
  • Saudi Arabia tells the international community there is a separate legal framework and system for minors but this is not always the case in practice. (AD)
  • The Saudi Crown Prince talks about human rights and liberalisation, and there is some engagement (albeit often defensive) with the UN system, yet executions continue – including politically and religiously motivated ones. The international community, including the UK, must keep up the pressure. (AD)
  • Saudi Arabia should be persuaded to accept requests for visits made by UN Special Rapporteurs. (AD)
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the prohibition of the death penalty for juveniles as recently as 2005. In Egypt, many minors are being tried alongside adults and sentenced to death since the coup, as the law stipulates that children are caught up in criminal activity alongside adults are under the jurisdiction of the same courts. The UK provides extensive legal and other support to Egypt, which gives rise to allegations of complicity in these human rights violations. (SB)
  • The UK should make direct representations to relevant Governments about all cases where there is a risk of the death penalty being handed down to juveniles, and raise the prohibition of the use of the death penalty against juveniles in all relevant UN fora – especially at the UPR (including that of Saudi Arabia). It should also aspire to greater accountability and transparency in its assistance programmes, including the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), to ensure aid is not given to countries which still execute juveniles. (SB)


The PHRG will continue to raise its objection to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, including against children when it also believes there must be an unequivocal international legal prohibition; to monitor the situation in specific countries closely, and to raise its concerns with the relevant interlocutors.


International Humanitarian Law: Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) held a Parliamentary roundtable discussion, in conjunction with War Child, on 11 July 2018, on ”the Role of the UK in Protecting Children in Armed Conflict”, further to the launch of War Child’s report “A Critical Friend? How the UK uses its influence to protect children’s rights in conflict” and the UN Secretary General’s recent report on Children and Armed Conflict 2018.

The speakers were:

  • Hannah Stoddart (HS) Director of Advocacy and Communications, War Child;
  • Professor Rosa Freedman (RF) – Director, Global Development Division, School of Law, University of Reading

The main points were:

  • War Child’s report focuses on Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia (in connection with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen) (included in the UN Secretary-General’s report as violators of children’s rights in conflict), because they are close allies of the UK, with the latter having the potential to build on its role as major aid donor, trading and military partner, and champion of human rights and gender equality, in order to exert influence on them to ensure greater respect for the rights of children in armed conflict. However, to date, the UK’s role in promoting the rights of children in conflict and ensuring their protection has been highly inconsistent. (HS)
  • There are a number of countries closely allied to the UK in which children’s rights in conflict settings have been de-prioritised in favour of other UK interests. This undermines the UK’s legitimacy as a champion of children’s rights and human rights more broadly. (HS)
  • UK-led military and security force training and protocols do not adequately weigh children’s rights against other factors.
  • The report concludes that trade and security objectives generally take precedence over the rights of children in conflict. This is illustrated by the UK granting arms export licenses to countries which seriously and continually violate children’s rights, such as Saudi Arabia, as regards its role in the conflict in the Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. (HS)
  • The recommendations from the report were highlighted (HS):
    • Develop a cross-governmental strategy for protecting children affected by armed conflict – to address policy incoherence and inconsistencies that undermine children’s rights;
    • Strategically use the levers of humanitarian assistance, military presence, trade measures and diplomatic relationships to put more pressure on State and non-State armed groups that commit grave violations against children;
    • Make better use of all international channels and UN bodies to promote the rights of children in armed conflict;
    • Support mechanisms that hold the perpetrators of grave violations to account to deter future violations – such as tying economic sanctions to persistent breaches;
    • Increase training of UK armed forces on the rights of children in armed conflict and ensure these issues are embedded in training provided to military forces in other countries.
    • Only permit arms exports when they adhere to international law – and do not approve arms exports to countries who are listed by the UN as committing grave violations.
  • The UK will be engaging with states in a different way post-Brexit, and there is a danger that though the UK has historically been seen as a leader on human rights and civilian protection mandates, trade and security could be accorded more importance at the expense of those mandates. (RF)
  • When the UK is silent or does not take a position or responsibility for some violations of human rights or humanitarian law (e.g., Yemen), it undermines its legitimacy when takes a position and action in other situations (e.g., Syria). Where there is hypocrisy, other international actors that do not wish to abide by human rights/humanitarian law use that to justify their behaviour and to undermine the UK’s position and the entire international rules-based system. (RF)
  • There is a disconnect across areas of the UK government: human rights are better embedded in certain areas/agencies (e.g., MOD, military, FCO) than others (e.g., trade and business, including arms sales). The question is how to ensure comparative levels of buy-in across the board. It is also essential to generate wider public support to call out the UK for this gap. (RF)
  • There also has to be an acknowledgement that national justice systems in conflict countries do not work so there is no domestic mechanism for accountability. (RF)


The PHRG will continue to champion the importance of international humanitarian law, including the protection of all civilians; to monitor conflict situations closely; and, to raise its concerns with the relevant interlocutors.