Skip to main content

UN: Saudi Arabia Pledges End of Men’s Control Over Women

Commitments Also Made to UN on Juvenile Death Penalty, Domestic Workers

(Geneva) - Saudi Arabia made important commitments on women's rights, on ending the juvenile death penalty and on other human rights issues during its review by the UN Human Rights Council on June 10, 2009 and should now work to carry out these reforms rapidly, Human Rights Watch said today.

Saudi Arabia accepted a recommendation put forward by UN member states in February to take steps to end the system of male guardianship over women, to give full legal identity to Saudi women, and prohibit gender discrimination. The government also clarified that the Shari'a concept of male guardianship over women is not a legal requirement, and that "Islam guarantees a woman's right to conduct her affairs and enjoy her legal capacity."

"Saudi women have waited a long time for these changes," said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "Now they need concrete action so that these commitments do not remain words on paper in Geneva, but are felt by Saudi women in their daily lives."

Human Rights Watch said that Saudi Arabia should establish an oversight mechanism to ensure that government agencies no longer request a guardian's permission for a woman to work, travel, study, marry, or gain access health care or any public service.

The Universal Periodic Review of Saudi Arabia by the Human Rights Council, held in February and June, was the first such comprehensive international public scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.

Saudi Arabia also accepted the recommendation to codify vague tenets of Shari'a criminal law currently open to widely disparate interpretations. Furthermore, the Saudi Human Rights Commission, representing the kingdom in Geneva, accepted the recommendation that only persons over 18 should be tried as adults and that there should be a moratorium on the death penalty for people who committed crimes under the age of 18.

Saudi Arabia is one of only five countries globally that continues to execute individuals convicted for crimes committed as children. Sultan bin Sulaiman bin Muslim al-Muwallad, a Saudi, and' Isa bin Muhammad' Umar Muhammad, a Chadian, each 17 years old at the time of their arrest in 2004, were executed in mid-May.

"Saudi Arabia should implement these changes immediately, including a review of any individuals currently awaiting the death penalty," said Varia. "Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the inconsistent and unfair trials resulting from a lack of codified law."

The Saudi government noted that it has drafted an ordinance on domestic workers to address their exclusion from labor laws. In a 2008 report, Human Rights Watch showed how weak protections had left many domestic workers vulnerable to unpaid wages, exploitative working conditions, physical abuse, and forced labor.

"The draft ordinance has been discussed and debated for several years now with no concrete result," said Varia. "The Saudi government needs to move past verbal commitments and ensure that these desperately needed measures are put into effect within the next few months."

Other commitments included protections against discrimination in the employment of religious minorities, a commitment to issue the kingdom's first law allowing the establishment of nongovernmental organizations, and an expression of openness to visits by international human rights experts from the United Nations and independent groups.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.