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List of recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review of Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council

Human Rights Watch calls on UN member states to raise the following issues with the Saudi delegation:

I. Transparency Toward Rights Bodies

  1. Issue a standing invitation to UN special rapporteurs. The rapporteurs on Torture, on Trafficking, on Extrajudicial Executions, on Religious Freedom, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have requested visits to the kingdom, but not yet received approval.
  2. Allow international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International free access to the country. Human Rights Watch has not received permission to visit since March 2008; Amnesty International has never visited the kingdom, although it received promises in 2006 and 2009.
  3. Issue an NGO law that provides the legal bases for local rights groups to operate. Saudi Arabia has no NGO law, but a 2007 draft is awaiting approval in the Council of Ministers.

II. Criminal Justice

  1. Set up a public defender/legal aid mechanism that provides free legal assistance to all capital defendants, juveniles, and others in need, such as women, foreigners, and the indigent. In 2008, the Saudi Lawyers Association agreed with the Human Rights Commission to provide free legal assistance to anyone the commission refers. This is a helpful first step, but insufficient for current needs.
  2. Write a penal (criminal) code. Saudi Arabia has no written criminal law. Efforts to codify Shari'a, Islamic law, have long been under way, with increased discussion since 2006. A penal code is important to prevent an arbitrary application of vague legal notions in which judges "prove" acts, which they then define as crimes. In November 2007, King Abdullah initiated judicial reform, mandating new, specialized courts and training for judges, with a budget of US$1.9 billion. The courts are not yet operational.
  3. Abolish the juvenile death penalty. Currently, judges evaluate a suspect's signs of puberty at trial, not at commission of crime, to determine whether to try him or her as an adult. No examination of a child's mental capacity takes place. However, in December, the appointed Shura council passed a draft law unifying the age of majority at 18. King Abdullah should promulgate this law and make clear it extends to criminal matters. Saudi Arabia remains one of only five countries in the world with the juvenile death penalty.
  4. Set a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility. Efforts to set it at 12, the minimum internationally accepted age, have progressed, but loopholes allowing for detention of children under 12 remain.

III.       Women's Rights

  1. Issue decrees abolishing the need for written consent by a male legal guardian (a close relative, such as a father, husband, brother or even a child) before an adult woman can work in government.
  2. Abolish by decree this type of consent for a woman's unaccompanied domestic and international travel. A new 2008 regulation abolishes the requirement for a male guardian's consent for domestic travel by businesswomen. This is a welcome, but insufficient step.
  3. Ensure women's right to health and privacy by reminding hospitals that it is not lawful to demand consent from a male guardian before treating a woman. Remove any requirements for male guardians' consent for women intending to study in tertiary education.
  4. Ensure that consenting adults can freely enter into marriage, and grant women equal custody rights of children in case of divorce.
  5. Consider elevating the public status of women by appointing women as ministers, members of the appointed Shura council, diplomats and judges.

IV.       Migrant Workers

  1. Hold employers who withhold wages or confiscate passports of migrant workers accountable; ensure that migrant workers do not have to pay recruiting, visa or travel fees, which should be the sole responsibility of employers.
  2. Abolish the sponsorship system, which ties workers to their individual employers who are the sponsors. Currently, sponsors must permit a foreigner to leave the country or to change sponsors. The Ministry of Labor already proposed this step in 2008, but has not yet followed through. The National Society for Human Rights also supports this step.
  3. Include migrant domestic workers within the labor law. The Ministry of Labor announced this step in 2005 and wrote a draft annex to the Labor Law in 2007 that regulates domestic work, but has not yet followed through with promulgating the annex.
  4. Improve migrant workers' access to justice by providing adequate language services, expedited trials, and defense against counter-suits. New, specialized labor courts were supposed to come into existence following the 2007 justice reform, but labor tribunals under the Ministry of Labor continue to arbitrate labor disputes, often in favor of the Saudi employer.

V.        Religious Minorities

  1. Take steps to end discrimination based on religion against Shia in employment. Review government employment to reflect more closely the religious makeup of particular areas of the country, and promote competent Shia to leadership positions in local government, especially in locations where Shia sects constitute large minorities or majorities (Qatif, Ahsa, Najran, Medina). Pay special attention to eliminating discrimination in the appointment of school directors. Allow Shia to study at military colleges and to serve in the military. Also consider appointing prominent Shia in central government, e.g. as ministers.
  2. Take steps to end discrimination based on religion in the judiciary. Allow Shia to qualify as regular judges, in addition to the current four Shia judges in the Qatif and Ahsa courts (which have jurisdiction solely over personal status matters). Ensure that no Shia is excluded from access to justice by being disqualified as a witness, or as a lawyer, based on his or her religious identity.
  3. Take steps to end discrimination in religion. Allow Shia to teach religion in school. Do not discriminate in granting permission for planning and building Shia mosques and Husseiniyyas, gathering halls used for religious and cultural functions. Grant Shia imams and mosques the same access to state funds that Sunni imams and mosques enjoy. Do not interfere with Shia worship in private or public, and protect their right to worship from interference by others. Do not arrest Shia prayer leaders for practicing their religion. Allow other religions such as Christians, Hindus and Buddhists to practice their faith without state interference.
  4. Senior government officials should condemn hate speech against the Shia by senior clerics, who sometimes are government officials, and publicly accept Shia and Ismailis as full Saudi citizens without differentiation. Include Shia and Ismaili Saudis in the diplomatic corps, including in the Saudi mission to the Organization for Islamic Conference.

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