Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on your accession to the throne. On that occasion you pledged “to work for justice and serve all citizens without discrimination.” Since then you have announced several measures that, if implemented, will advance the rights of citizens and residents of the kingdom. In August, you pardoned several political prisoners and met with Shi`a and Isma’ili representatives. In September, you promulgated a new labor law that holds the promise of improving women’s and migrant workers’ rights and you created a government human rights commission.

February 7, 2006

H.R.H. King Abdullah Ibn `Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
Royal Court
Riyadh
Saudi Arabia

Your Royal Highness,

Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on your accession to the throne. On that occasion you pledged “to work for justice and serve all citizens without discrimination.” Since then you have announced several measures that, if implemented, will advance the rights of citizens and residents of the kingdom. In August, you pardoned several political prisoners and met with Shi`a and Isma’ili representatives. In September, you promulgated a new labor law that holds the promise of improving women’s and migrant workers’ rights and you created a government human rights commission.

These are welcome steps. At the same time, we are sure you will agree that much more needs to be done, on an urgent basis, to address serious human rights problems in the kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, basic civil and political rights are frequently violated. To address the most serious violations, which we outline in the accompanying memorandum, we believe the government of Saudi Arabia should, as a matter of priority, incorporate its international human rights obligations into domestic legislation and enforce them through government action and an independent judiciary that is versed in and applies statutory laws.

Bringing Saudi Arabian law in line with its international legal obligations is a necessary first step to addressing the pervasive and severe human rights problems in the country. Under your leadership, Saudi Arabia can protect and fulfil its citizens' rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and establish a system whereby justice is administered fairly and in accordance with international standards. Addressing other human rights problems, such as eliminating pervasive discrimination against women, migrant workers, and persons who are non-Muslims or follow an interpretation of Islam differing from that propounded by the government, will require more than legislative acts. Nonetheless, the government can use needed legal reforms as a first step in this struggle to provide rights protections and justice for all without discrimination.

We look forward to discussing these issues with Saudi officials, who have assured Human Rights Watch that an official visit by the organization has been approved for the near future. We also look forward to seeing measurable progress under your leadership in improving human rights practices.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

To read Human Rights Watch’s memo to King Abdullah, please click here