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No birth certificates condemns many young people in Yemen

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Yemen, one of the Middle East's poorest and least educated nations, has a terrible legacy surrounding the many isolated rural families who fail to record their children's births with official birth certificates. Those convicted of murder while still children - usually arising from inhumane treatment, are unable to prove they were under 18 years of age at the time and are sentenced to death.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Proving one's age is a huge issue in Yemen in these cases," Priyanka Motaparthy, a Human Rights Watch researcher says.

"But there is a second issue: even in cases when juvenile offenders and lawyers were able to produce strong evidence suggesting they were under 18 for their alleged crime, judges and prosecutors have disregarded Yemeni law and called for death sentences," Motaparthy says.

Yemen's penal code banned juvenile executions in 1994. However, recent reports say that 186 are being currently tried for murder and could face the death penalty. Three such executions were given a green light by former President Ali Abdulah Saleh before he left office in February of last year. Yemen's current president must sign a decree as the final step before an execution is carried out.

Yemen is signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bars the death penalty for those who commit murder under age 18.

This has failed to prevent Yemen's presidents from signing juvenile execution orders once appeals are exhausted, and 15 have been killed in the past five years.

Adults can receive death sentences for murder, honor crimes, rape, armed robbery and even sorcery. Most executions are conducted in prison courtyards with families and officials present, by shooting into the back of a prone prisoner.

Seventy-seven outraged juveniles in Sana'a Central Prison mounted a high-profile hunger strike in January, protesting the death sentence handed down to Nadim al-Aza'azi, who was confirmed by a court doctor to have been 15 years old at the time of his crime.

"We are not only outraged that child offenders continue to be executed in Yemen, in flagrant contravention of international law, but we are also deeply concerned over the increased number of sentences of capital punishments pronounced against children," Jean Zermatten, chair of United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Organizations such as UNICEF are working with the government on birth registration - especially in rural areas where the majority of the Yemen's 25 million population live as a crucial step to address the execution of juvenile offenders.

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