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Key Recommendations

The most recent information from Saudi Arabia’s ministry of labor indicates that expatriates in the kingdom total 8.8 million men and women, a significant number, given that the indigenous population is an estimated 18 million (see Chapter I).  This report provides extensive documentation of the varieties of labor exploitation and human rights abuses that foreign workers face in the kingdom. The significant size of Saudi Arabia’s expatriate population, and the serious nature of the problems that they often encounter, necessitate bold and innovative remedial actions from the government.

The detailed recommendations of Human Rights Watch – to the government of Saudi Arabia, its various ministries, and other concerned international and regional parties -- are presented in Chapter IX of the report. 

Among our key recommendations to the government of Saudi Arabia are the following: 

(1) Initiate an independent, thorough, and public national inquiry into the situation of migrant workers in the kingdom.

Saudi authorities have never comprehensively and publicly assessed the realities that many migrant workers in the kingdom face.  As a result, there is limited official and public awareness of the nature and scope of the problem.  Accordingly, Human Rights Watch urges that His Royal Highness Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, First Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard, should appoint an independent and impartial Royal Commission to investigate and report on the serious problems and abuses that migrant women and men in the kingdom face on a daily basis. 

As part of the commission’s mandate, it should hold public hearings in all major cities throughout the kingdom. Migrant workers, and their families and advocates, should be invited to give testimony at these hearings, as should regional and international nongovernmental organizations with expertise on migrant workers issues and rights. 

The commission should be required by law to complete its inquiry within a defined period of time, and make its findings and recommendations public.

(2) Take immediate action to inform all migrant workers in the kingdom of their rights under Saudi and international law.

This report makes clear that large numbers of migrant workers are unaware of the rights that they have under existing law.  Because such workers typically face language barriers and live in the kingdom for only a few years at a time, more concerted government efforts are necessary to inform them of their rights.  Accordingly, we call on the  government to promulgate by royal decree an enforceable “bill of rights” for migrant workers.  It should be publicized widely in the kingdom, using print and broadcast media and other means of public outreach.  The decree should be issued simultaneously in Arabic and all the languages of the countries of origin of the major migrant worker communities in the kingdom.

This “bill of rights” should delineate, in a comprehensive and comprehensible manner, all the rights that are granted to migrant workers under the kingdom’s laws and regulations. It should serve as a practical educational tool for workers and employers alike, and clarify legal and other ambiguities that lead to abusive treatment.

(3) Impose significant penalties on Saudi employers and sponsors who exploit migrant workers and place them at risk.

Pursuant to Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations, the use of forced or compulsory labor should be a specifically defined criminal offense under domestic law.

In addition, substantial penalties should be imposed on employers who withhold the passports and residency permits of migrant workers, and those who charge illegal fees for official immigration documents. 

(4) Make domestic labor-law protections inclusive.

One shortcoming that Saudi authorities should address urgently is the absence of legal protections for women and men employed in domestic service and agricultural work in the kingdom.  Such individuals are excluded even from the flawed and limited labor protections currently in force under Saudi law.  The protections of the kingdom’s labor law should extend to all migrant workers, irrespective of their gender and job descriptions, however menial such jobs may be considered. 

(5) End the forced confinement of women migrant workers.

The executive branch of government and consultative council (majlis al-shoura) should take immediate legislative steps to ensure that no migrant woman worker is held against her will at places of private or public employment and residence.  Regulations to this effect should be promulgated as an urgent matter, and widely publicized to the Saudi public, using all print, broadcast, and other media.

These regulations should impose substantial penalties on employers who continue the practice, and provide fair and equal compensation to the victims, commensurate with the length and severity of their confinement.

(6) End the imprisonment of women and children for “illegal” pregnancies.

End as an urgent matter the arrest and imprisonment of migrant and Saudi women and children who become pregnant voluntarily or because they were victims of sexual violence.  Women and children currently in prison should be immediately released, and provided with social and other supportive services as required.

(7) Address as an urgent matter the serious flaws in the kingdom’s criminal justice system.

The arrest and detention practices of the ministry of interior should be brought into immediate conformity withprovisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Anyone arrested as a criminal suspect in the kingdom should be informed of his or her rights under the kingdom’s laws, including those set forth and guaranteed in the new criminal procedure code. This information should be provided orally and in writing, in languages that all suspects can understand.

Effective judicial oversight of interior ministry personnel is urgently needed.  Authorities should take immediate steps to ensure judicial supervision of the investigation of all criminal suspects, for the purpose of ending such practices as abusive interrogations, torture, and coerced confessions.

Authorities should also make public detailed information about all persons, Saudi citizens and foreigners alike, who have been sentenced to death in the kingdom and are awaiting execution.  The implementation of all death sentences should be suspended until it can be determined independently that the defendants were not tortured and their confessions were not coerced.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>July 2004