Joint Written Intervention before HRC 11th session about UPR on the Human Rights situation in the KSA

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Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Contact: Jeremie Smith, Director Geneva Office
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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Eleventh Session

Written Statement submitted by The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a non-governmental organization in special consultative status

Universal Periodical Review on the human rights situation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: A deterioration in the human rights situation

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Human Rights First society KSA would like to express their concern over the continued restriction on freedoms in the Kingdom including flagrant violation of the freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
1. Saudi Arabia (KSA) represents a unique example in terms of disrespect for human rights principles and prospects for democratic transition. In February 2009, on the eve of its Universal Periodical Review at the Human Rights Council, the king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, ordered the most significant changes in the government, the armed forces, the judiciary and the religious establishment since he became King in 2005. Such reforms included changing the head of the religious police, removing the conservative supreme judicial council leader, expanding the Ulema council (the council of religious leaders) to include members of all branches of Sunni Islam. Also these changes included the appointment of the first woman as deputy minister.  Furthermore, new heads of the administrative court, the supreme council of justice, and the Supreme Court were named. Though we applaud these changes, they have not had a positive effect on the human rights situation on the ground, and they remain very minor in comparison with repressive policies against minority sects and marginalized sectors in Saudi society.

2. These policies can be demonstrated by the ongoing discrimination against the Shiite sect. Such discrimination is becoming more and more of a legal and socially accepted practice in Saudi Arabia. As on February 20, 2009, members of the Saudi religious police prevented a group of Shiite female pilgrims from entering al-Baqi cemetery and subjected them to verbal and physical harassment while videotaping them without their consent. Consequently, Shiite men protested outside the religious police headquarters over the maltreatment of the Shiite pilgrims and demanded an increase in freedoms for associated to the Shiite community. Three days later the religious and anti-riot police arrested 9 people after violent confrontation with the Shiite in al-Baqi. Reportedly dozens of Shiites were injured. In the same month an arrest warrant was issued against Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr -a leading Shiite cleric- because of his criticism of the attacks on Shiite pilgrims. Moreover, In March 2009 the authorities arrested 10 members of the Shiite minority including seven juveniles between the age of 14 and 16 accusing them of taking part in the February protest in Safwa.

3. The lack of political will for an effective transition to democracy can also be demonstrated by the decision of the Kingdom not to recognize the right of citizens to form political parties, form associations or the right to peaceful assembly. Also Saudi Arabia is considered to be a high-risk environment for rights’ defenders and advocates of reform. Despite the governments’ recent official declarations which promised human rights reforms and the establishment of two government supported rights organizations, authorities have ignored several requests to register other human rights organizations such as Human Rights First society in Saudi Arabia, Saudi National Human Rights Committee and the Association for Defending Women’s Rights. Some of these pending requests have existed since 2002. Also the Saudi authorities continue to restrict a number of internet websites and blogs in violation to the right to freedom of expression and right to the free access to information. This practice has been increasing in the past five years especially with the regards to with Shiite sites and blogs.  The authorities imposed very strict rules on internet cafes as it issued directives for its owners to install hidden surveillance cameras in addition to requesting that visitors must provide them detailed personal information data. In addition the government has imposed an age restriction of 18 years for internet cafe visitors.

4. Human rights violations in Saudi Arabia extend to inhumane and degrading corporal punishment in the form of amputation of limbs or public flogging as a judicial penalty. In December 2008, a Saudi court decided to increase a sentence on two Egyptian doctors to 15 and 20 years of prison, as well as 1,500 and 1,700 lashes each. Offenses that flogging is used for includes the crime of being alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite gender.  A very recent example shows a 20-year-old girl known as the “Girl from al-Qatif” and her male companion were sentenced to 200 lashes for being found together despite the fact that they had been the victims of an attack by seven men, who kidnapped them at knifepoint and then gang raped the girl. After a strong international campaign, charges against the girl and her companion were dropped in early 2008 by a King’s pardon.  Additionally, in July 2008 a court upheld a decision to punish a man with 600 lashes and eight months of imprisonment and his female student with 300 lashes and four months of imprisonment after they were convicted of establishing a relationship together.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Human Rights First wants to draw the attention of the Council to the deteriorating condition of vulnerable groups and marginalized groups – including women, children and domestic workers in the Kingdom.

1. Women still suffer from obvious discrimination and are still denied numerous basic rights. Under the basic law of Saudi Arabia, gender equality is not guaranteed. In fact, sex segregation is built into Saudi Arabia’s legal and social structures. The government continues to treat women as legal minors, where their male guardians have complete legal power over them. In fact, women require permission of their guardians to work, travel, study, marry, receive health care or access public services and the are still not allowed to drive. On the eve of the discussion of the UPR of Saudi Arabia, on February 10, 2009, a 23 year old woman, who was gang raped was reportedly sentenced to one year in jail and 100 lashes for “adultery”.  On March 8, 2009, a 75 year old woman was sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in prison for fraternizing with men that are not within her immediate family.  Moreover women risk arrest by religious police for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee or a close male relative.  According to the report submitted to the Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to Saudi Arabia after her visit to the kingdom on February 13, 2008, Professor Yakin Erturk identified in her concluding observations on her mission that women lack autonomy and economic independence, this is demonstrated throughout practices surrounding divorce and child custody. The absence of a law criminalizing violence against women and inconsistencies in the application of laws and procedures continue to prevent many women from escaping abusive environments. The situation of women is farther aggravated by the lack of written laws governing private life which constitutes a major obstacle to women’s access to justice.

2. Reports show that in violation of international law, children below the age of 18 are legally executed by Saudi courts as long as they have attained the age of maturity. According to Saudi practices and laws, including a 2002 council of senior scholars decree, maturity is obtained when any one of four conditions are met for males or females  1) attaining 15 years of age, 2) occurrence of sexual dreams (al-ihtilam), 3) appearance of pubic hair or, in case of girls, 4) upon menstruation. There have been at least 13 cases where individuals have been sentenced to death for crimes they committed while they were legally minors. In April for the second time a court in the Saudi town of Unaiza upheld the marriage of an 8-year-old Saudi girl to 58-year-old man,  on the condition that he does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.  This marriage may qualified as human trafficking as the girl’s father was in need of money and he arranged the marriage in order to clear his debts with the child’s husband.

3. With regard to migrant workers, an estimated 8 million foreign workers, primarily from India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, still suffer from a wide range of abuses by state authorities and labor exploitation by private employer that in some instances rise to slavery-like conditions.  The labor law in Saudi Arabia expels the domestic workers from its scope as they are deprived from weekends, work for unlimited hours and get no overtime. There are between1 to 1.5 million women domestic worker in Saudi Arabia.  Saudi authorities and the different foreign embassies frequently receive complains from these workers especially about working without wages. Despite renewed announcements in July 2008, the Ministry of Labor failed to implement its commitment to end the kafala (sponsorship) system – a restrictive policy that ties migrant workers’ residency permit to their employers allowing such abuses as confiscating the migrants’ passports, withholding their wages, and forcing them to work for months and years against their will. Abuses by state authorities included detention without charge or trial, ill-treatment and providing impunity for abusive employers.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Human Rights First Society in KSA would like that Saudi government to take the following recommendations into consideration during the final adoption of its UPR:

1. Ratify fundamental human rights instruments such as the international Covenant on Economics, Social and Culture Rights and the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its two Optional protocols; as well as the international convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and Rome Statute of the International Criminal court.

2. Enhance the condition of women by promoting women’s empowerment and public sphere participation and work toward the elimination of all forms of discrimination and domestic violence against women.

3. Halt all forms of discrimination against religious minorities including the Shiite minority and ensure their integration within the legal and political structure of the Kingdom.

4. Modify its domestic legislation especially labor laws to be in accordance with the standards and requirements contained in international instruments.

5. Immediately cease the practice of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

6. Halt all forms of restriction on the Freedom of Association and Assembly and respect the right of political participation of all citizens.

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