Woman Forced to Stay in Saudi Arabia Against Her Will
January 19, 2010

Dr. Bandar al-‘Iban

Chairman

Human Rights Commission

King Fahd Road, Building no. 373

Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Dear Dr. al-‘Iban,

I am writing to urgently request your assistance in helping Ms. Nazia Quazi, an unmarried 24-year-old dual Canadian and Indian national, to leave Saudi Arabia and return to her home in Canada.  The following account comes from an interview with Ms. Quazi conducted by Human Rights Watch on November 25, 2009.

Ms. Quazi arrived in Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2007 for a brief visit with her father, Mr. Quazi Malik Abdul Gaffar, an Indian national who currently lives and works in Saudi Arabia.  Mr. Abdul Gaffar has since forced his daughter to remain in Saudi Arabia against her will by confiscating her Canadian and her Indian passports, and other identification documents such as her driver's license and her credit cards.   On December 9, 2009 Nazia Quazi approached the Human Rights Commission for help and according to her, she  was told "your father is doing all this for your own security, just respect that."

Ms. Quazi entered the Kingdom on her Indian passport with a visit visa valid for three months.  Her father took her to get a medical exam whose purpose she did not understand until it became clear that this was necessary for sponsorship purposes.  Mr. Abdul Gaffar is Nazia Quazi's sponsor and he renewed her sponsorship until November 2010. 

On 8 November 2009, Ms. Quazi applied for a limited validity passport at the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, where consular officials informed her that because her only proof of identity is a photocopy of her Canadian passport, the embassy may not be able to issue her a new passport.  Even if she were to obtain a new Canadian passport, she says that representatives at the Canadian Embassy, the Indian Embassy, and the Passport Office all told her that she would still require her father's authorization to obtain an exit visa to leave the country.  On October 28, 2009, Ms. Quazi received an emergency certificate from the Indian Embassy which is only valid until January 2010, but was told that she must arrange for her own exit visa which is arranged at the Passport Office by the person's sponsor, in this case by Ms. Quazi's father.

Ms. Quazi informed Human Rights Watch of a history of abuse by her parents.  According to her, she says that her mother has emotionally abused her and that her father has been physically violent towards her, before and after her arrival in Saudi Arabia. She says that in July 2008 he held a knife up to her neck and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave the country.  According to Ms. Quazi, her father in June 2009 tried to force her to marry someone she does not know.  She refused to marry and ran away from her father's home.  Nazia's mother still lives in Canada with her two sons, 21 and 25 years old.  Ms. Quazi says that her mother supports her husband's decision to keep their only daughter in Riyadh indefinitely.

During its Universal Periodic Review in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, the government of Saudi Arabia acknowledged that "the concept of guardianship [can turn] into domination and coercion."  Ms. Quazi's case is a clear demonstration of such domination and coercion that men exercise over adult women, restricting their freedom to travel.  Saudi Arabia has accepted the UN's recommendation to take measures to end the system of male guardianship and to prohibit gender discrimination. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2001.  Under CEDAW, the kingdom is obliged to end discriminatory practices against women, such as the system of male guardianship.  The government also has obligations to take measures to combat violence against women including forced marriages, and other forms of physical and mental abuse. 

In April 2009, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Erturk, recommended in her report on her February 2009 mission to Saudi Arabia that the kingdom:

  • Incorporate in law the principle of equality between women and men, and a definition of discrimination based on sex.
  • Take measures, including through awareness-raising campaign, to end the practice of guardianship and abolish existing legal provisions that require a guardian's authorization, such as those pertaining to women's travel or access to services or employment.
  • Adopt guidelines for government agencies and religious leaders aimed at preventing and ending child and forced marriage.

On November 11, 2009, Human Rights Watch also wrote to your organization on behalf of H.B., a Saudi woman living in Riyadh whose name we are withholding in this public letter for her protection and privacy. H.B. was raped as a young girl by a family member.  The same family member continues to harass, threaten and beat her. She approached your organization but her case has only been partially solved. H.B. was given separate living quarters in her family home, but this has not deterred this family member from entering H.B.'s home and harassing her.  We asked for your urgent intervention with the concerned authorities to protect this woman and her child who lives with her from further abuse and exploitation.   Human Rights Watch has contacted the Saudi Human Rights Commission, but has not yet received a response on this particular case.

Erturk in her report also recommended that to stop violence against women and girls Saudi Arabia should:

  • Adopt a penal code that defines criminal offenses including rape and sets attendant penalties.
  • Adopt guidelines for the police and the judiciary on how to investigate, prosecute, and judge cases of rape and sexual violence.
  • Establish women's units within the police and the general prosecutor's office.
  • Systemize the gathering of data on violence against women, disaggregated by the type of violence and relationship with the aggressor.
  • Enhance the protection and services offered to victims of abuse by social protection committees, including through legal aid and empowerment programmes.
  • Conduct awareness-raising campaigns and training for law enforcement officials, the judiciary, health-care providers, social workers, community leaders, and the general public, to increase understanding that all forms of violence against women are grave violations of fundamental rights and incompatible with Islamic values.

The charter of the Saudi Human Rights Commission says that one of the Commission's tasks is to  "receive human rights related complaints, investigate them for certainty, and take regulatory procedures." We urge you to fulfil the commission's mandate by quickly intervening with the responsible authorities to protect the rights of Nazia Quazi and the Saudi woman mentioned above. 

Ms. Quazi should promptly receive from her father her Indian and her Canadian passports and all her belongings. Officials should speedily arrange for all necessary documentation in order for her to be able to leave Saudi Arabia.  Saudi authorities in the meantime should protect Ms. Quazi from any threats by her father, and take legal action against her father in case he is suspected of committing a crime. 

In the case of H.B., we ask you to urgently intervene with the relevant law enforcement and judicial authorities to ensure that she and her child receive protection against sexual violence, harassment, or exploitation by family members.  Such protection should include preventing the family members in question from contacting her or physically approaching her.

Allegations of the past rape should be fully investigated, and prosecutions brought where there is evidence to do so.

We look forward to hearing from you about your actions and further developments in these two cases.

Sincerely,

Liesl Gerntholtz

Director, Women's Rights Division

Human Rights Watch