President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi of Yemen should immediately halt the scheduled execution of a man who may have been under 18 at the time of the alleged crime, Human Rights Watch said. Mohammad Abd al-karim Mohammad Haza`a is due to face a firing squad on the morning of March 9, 2013.
International treaties to which Yemen is a party, as well as Yemen’s penal law, specifically prohibit the execution of anyone convicted of committing a crime as a child – that is, under age 18. International law requires that in cases in which the age is uncertain, the person should have the benefit of the doubt.
UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, has requested more time to assess conflicting documentary evidence relating to Haza`a’s age.
“President Hadi should postpone Haza`a’s execution at least until the full facts of his age are known,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, child rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Such an irreversible punishment should never be carried out while there remains any credible doubt about whether the accused was a child at the time of the crime.”
Haza`a was convicted of a murder committed in August 1999. On July 11, 2000, the Court of First Instance in Taizz found that he was 17 at the time of the crime and sentenced him to prison and the payment of diya (blood money), in accordance with the requirements of Yemen’s domestic laws governing sentences for juvenile offenders.
The Appeals Court upheld the conviction but by a two-to-one majority amended the sentence, imposing the death penalty. The dissenting judge refused to sign the decision, citing his belief that Haza`a was under 18 at the time of the crime.
Nevertheless, Yemen’s Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence on April 14, 2008, without re-examining the issue of Haza`a’s age. Yemen’s president at that time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, signed Haza`a’s death warrant later that year.
“President Hadi should uncover the truth about Haza`a’s age and not be bound by the decision of his predecessor,” Motaparthy said.
International law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed by anyone under 18. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, an international expert body, stated in its General Comment No. 10 of 2007 on children’s rights in juvenile justice that, “If there is no proof of age, the child is entitled to a reliable medical or social investigation that may establish his/her age and, in the case of conflict or inconclusive evidence, the child shall have the right to the rule of the benefit of the doubt.”
Human Rights Watch released a report on March 4 about the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Yemen, documenting how low birth registration, imprecise medical forensic age determination techniques, and faulty rulings by judges result in the continued executions of people who committed crimes under age 18.
Yemen is one of only four countries known to have executed juvenile offenders in the past five years; the others are Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.