can only be overruled if they contradict the plain meaning of the Qur’an or Sunnah, or abandon
interpretations or principles applied by higher courts.87
In light of this legislative system, the government of Saudi Arabia has yet to formally
outlaw the execution of minors.88 In fact, Saudi Arabia lacks even a legal definition of who is a
minor.89 In determining whether defendants qualify as minors, the trial judge is granted discretion
in deciding whether the physical signs of puberty are present at the time of the trial.90 This method
is not only subjective, it also completely disregards the age of the defendant at the time the alleged
crime was committed. As a result, judges have sentenced children to death for crimes committed
when they were as young as thirteen years old.91
In 2008, Saudi Arabia established the Specialized Criminal Court, with the sole purpose of
trying detainees linked to terrorist attacks.92 The Specialized Criminal Court falls under the
jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council,93 which is responsible for the supervision
of all courts and judges in Saudi Arabia.94 As of February 2014, the Court’s jurisdiction is codified
in the “Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Its Financing.”95 Although the Saudi embassy in
Washington reported in January 2016 that the Court had tried 2225 cases involving 6122
defendants, details about the defendants, charges, and trials have largely been kept secret.96 All
cases tried in the first two years following establishment of the Court related to defendants
suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. 97 In late 2010, the Court began expanding trials to include defendants
other than those with ties to al-Qaeda, beginning with legal proceedings for political activists. 98
By March 2016, most cases related to support for the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, 99 another
internationally recognized terrorist organization. 100 Although, as of May 4, 2017, Saudi Arabia
had been targeted in a vast number of terrorist plots, at least 1075 since 1987, 101 the prominence
of this threat is no excuse for the Specialized Criminal Court to disregard human rights.
87 Ansary, supra note 80.
88 Submission to the UN on child rights in Saudi Arabia, AMERICANS FOR DEMOCRACY & HUM. RTS. IN BAHR. at 1
(Aug. 2, 2016), http://www.adhrb.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/ADHRB-Submission-to-Saudi-Arabias-CRC-
Review.pdf [hereinafter Submission to the UN].
89 Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Justice System, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (Mar. 24,
90 Submission to the UN, supra note 88.
92 Lori Plotkin Boghardt, From ISIS to Activists: New Security Trials in Saudi Arabia, 33 WASH. INST. FOR NEAR E.
POL’Y 1, 1 (2016).
93 Id. at 2.
94 Law of the Judiciary Royal Decree No. M/78, art. 6(e) (Oct. 1, 2007) (Saudi Arabia).
95 Boghardt, supra note 92, at 2.
96 Id.at 1.
97 Id. at 3.
99 Id. at 4–5.
100 Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), COUNTER EXTREMISM PROJECT 1, 1,
https://www.counterextremism.com/threat/nusra-front-jabhat-fateh-al-sham (select “Download Report”).
101 UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while
countering terrorism concludes visit to Saudi Arabia, U.N. HUM. RTS. OFF. OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER, (May 4,
2017), http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21584&LangID=E [hereinafter UN