Young man Ali Mohammed al-Nimr is waiting in a Saudi prison to be beheaded and crucified – merely for being part of a demonstration he attended as a 16 or 17-year old child. He was sentenced to death by the Saudi authorities for his reported participation in ‘Arab Spring’ protests.
He was reportedly subjected to torture which forced him to confess to the charges against him. None of the charges were proven.
He is guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time the authorities were clamping down on dissent. Yet Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. International law also does not permit the death sentence on children under 18 years of age. Saudi law permits execution if the person under 18 years of age shows signs of puberty.
How on earth can Faisal Trad, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador in Geneva be elected as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council? The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. The Council assess candidates for UN human rights expert positions and makes recommendations on appointments.
UN Watch, a non-government watchdog organisation based in Geneva says that Saudi Arabia this year beheaded more people than Isis and has one of the worst records in the world in respect of human rights and religious freedom. Amnesty International reports that the Saudi Government severely restricts freedom of expression, association and assembly and imprisons critics including human rights defenders.
Even if young Ali Mohammed al-Nimr broke some Saudi law, the United Nations Convention says that children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. The death sentence is extreme punishment and confessions obtained under torture should be inadmissible in evidence for obvious reasons.
Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children in 2002. While the convention has not been included in law, the government is still obliged to comply with its provisions. The possibility of detaining 14-year old children for questioning for any length of time or slapping children with control orders as is being suggested in anti-terrorism laws in this country, if not another step in denying children their rights, is not in the spirit of protecting their rights. Instead of being a safeguard, such laws may be an incitement to further delinquent acts of terrorism.
Society’s responsibility to protect children rests in children’s vulnerability. Adolescents are vulnerable too. The murder of Curtis Cheng by a fifteen-year old is shocking and one can only feel for his family and friends. But, the murderer, Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad, was a child.
How Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad arrived at the point that he could commit such a terrible crime will be complex and may never be completely understood. What was shown is that vulnerable teen-agers can be so called ‘radicalised’ i.e. their minds can be manipulated at a time when they are searching for identity, autonomy and establishing their life values. A teenager who does not feel a part of a society can be more readily influenced to rebel against that society. They can be influenced at the peer group level and by mentors as well as by the external influence of radical criminal elements such as the Islamic State.
Should not children be protected from the evil-doers in the world who manipulate their minds? The politicians are on the terrorism band wagon. They should also be tackling the child development issues. With a different approach in education, societal influence and parental involvement could Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad’s so called radicalisation have been avoided?
Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad was shot dead before he could kill others. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr will be executed; he didn’t kill anybody. One young man and a teenager in two different societies: both, albeit in different circumstances, dead. What does this say about protecting children anywhere in the world? I am sure Australia will never be as extreme in its judicial system as the Saudi’s but do the anti-terrorism laws put Australia on some sort of human rights slippery slope? What message is being sent to the world by the appointment of a Saudi as Chair as the UN Human Rights Council?
Do you agree with Michael? Should we be doing more to protect young people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time?
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