Part 2: Systemic Problems in Saudi Criminal Justice

Three broad categories of human rights violations characterize the systemic problems in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system. First is the arbitrary detention of suspects, which occurs in cases where no legal basis for the detention can be invoked, in cases of an arrest for exercising a human right, or because a defendant has been detained following gross violations of fair trial rights. The second category of violations comprises due process and fair trial violations: fundamental flaws in the Saudi criminal justice system make miscarriages of justice a common phenomenon, based on Human Rights Watch’s investigation. These flaws include an absence of the presumption of the defendant’s innocence, restrictions on access to defense counsel and on calling witnesses for the defense, and criminal conviction despite the judges’ professed doubt about the defendant’s guilt. The third category of systemic violations includes torture and ill-treatment to obtain confessions and the unquestioned use of such confessions as evidence in court.

The arbitrary detention of security detainees and political dissidents, although contrary to law (see Appendix), appears intended to fulfill a government purpose—the government considers them a security risk or an unwelcome influence on societal attitudes towards its policies (national security detainees are discussed in Part 3 of this report). This is not the case with other Saudis and foreign nationals detained for alleged ordinary criminal activity. Their experiences appear to be the consequence not of design on the part of authorities but of wide systemic deficiencies.

In the wake of a decision to allow Saudi Arabia to join the World Trade Organization in December 2005, the kingdom announced that “Saudi Arabia has committed to fully transparent legal regimes.” “Demonstrat[ing] a fundamental shift within Saudi Arabia,” reforms “will increase transparency and predictability,” the announcement continued, emphasizing that “[t]he Kingdom has committed to establish and maintain the rule of law in Saudi Arabia. …For example, new laws and regulations establish legal procedures that provide the right to appeal adverse administrative and legal determinations.”146 Sadly, the prisoners and detainees in al-Ha’ir prison and elsewhere are as yet unable to avail themselves of these new legal procedures.

146 “Terms of Saudi Accession,” Middle East Policy Council, Volume XII, Number 4 (Winter 2005). This material is a summary prepared by Loeffler Tuggey Pauerstein Rosenthal LLP on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.