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The Saudi authorities should address systematic abuses against foreign workers in the kingdom, rather than denounce their exposure. Saudi labor minister Dr. Ghazi al-Ghosaibi charged that Human Rights Watch’s recent report exposing these abuses was “unbalanced” and “exaggerated.”

In a letter to the minister made public today, Human Rights Watch said that its report documented serious and systematic violations of the rights of some of the 8.8 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia. The report, Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia, was published on July 15.

“We’re not talking about isolated cases, but patterns of abuse against vulnerable men and women,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

One of the report’s major findings was the forced confinement of low-paid women workers at their places of employment and residence, a practice that Human Rights Watch recommended should be a criminal offense under Saudi law.

“Locking up women around the clock compromises their personal safety and leaves them extremely vulnerable to labor abuse and sexual violence,” Whitson said.

Human Rights Watch also reminded the Saudi official that foreign workers provided persuasive evidence of widespread problems in the kingdom’s criminal justice system, including prolonged incommunicado detention, torture and mistreatment under interrogation, and forcing suspects to sign confessions used as evidence against them at their trials. The letter singled out interior ministry personnel as human rights abusers, and called for closer supervision of this feared and powerful agency.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch stated its willingness to discuss its findings and recommendations with Saudi government officials.

“This report is comprehensive, and includes 27 very specific recommendations to Crown Prince Abdullah, government ministers, and members of the Consultative Council,” Whitson added. “It is irresponsible to dismiss it lightly and ignore its substance.”

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