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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s official Human Rights Commission is promoting what it describes as a human rights achievement: the launching of an initiative that uses national databases to track the implementation of recommendations from international mechanisms. At the November 3, 2019, ceremony(attended by Nathalie Fustier, UN Resident Coordinator in Saudi Arabia, and Christina Meinecke, coordinator of the HRC capacity-building programme), Dr.Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, president of the Human Rights Commission, noted that Saudi Arabia is the first Arab nation to implement this initiative.
Al-Awwad said that this initiative represents a step “towards another domain and a new horizon for constructive cooperation,” noting its alignment with the trend towards “achieving optimum levels in the field of e-government, as reflected in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, one of whose goals is to reach a top five ranking on the E-Government Development Index.” In addition, Al-Awwad stated that the initiative represents “an extension of the Kingdom’s progress in the field of human rights and its cooperation with UN human rights agencies and mechanisms.”
The European-Saudi Human Rights Organization (ESOHR) believes that Saudi Arabia is exploiting this mechanism merely to misinform and obscure the reality of human rights conditions in the country and its shameful dealings with UN human rights mechanisms. Drawing attention from the Kingdom’s violations to bogus activities does not amount to a serious cessation of abuses and systematic crimes against human rights.
In this report, the ESOHR, within the framework of its long-standing monitoring and observation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, presents some facts that contradict Saudi Arabia’s claims of “cooperation with UN human rights agencies and mechanisms.”
The president of the Human Rights Commission considers this initiative a confirmation of Saudi Arabia’s determination to move forward towards fulfilling its obligations in accordance with the human rights agreements to which it is a party, and its voluntary pledges made when running for the HRC, of which it has been a member four times since its founding in 2006.
Since 1996, Saudi Arabia has ratified seven out of 13 international agreements, which require the submission of regular reports; however, Saudi Arabia sometimes delays such reports for years.The ESOHR’s monitoring revealed that these reports contain a great deal of misleading information, as well as ongoing non-compliance with recommendationsfrom the relevant committees.
In 1996, Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2014, the Kingdom submitted a report that combined two reports that were supposed to be submitted nine years and four years prior. The Committee on the Rights of the Child submitted its concluding observations and outlined the violations that Saudi Arabia was continuing to engage in. It also announceda number of recommendations, including demands to stop corporal punishment and death sentences against a number of children. Years after the report, Saudi Arabia executed three children mentioned in the report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Salman al-Quraysh, Mujtaba al-Sweiket, and Abdulkarim al-Huwwaj. Three others also mentioned in the committee’s report remain under threat of execution: Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoun, and Abdullah al-Zaher.
In 1997, Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Although it submitted several periodic reports, it has not complied with numerous recommendations from the report of the Committee Against Torture, and the ESOHR has documented the ongoing use of torture, even against children.
In 2008, Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It only submitted its first yearly report to the committee in 2015, although it should have been submitted in July 2010. In addition, the ESOHR documented the Saudi government’s disregard of a resolution issued by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at is 20th session in 2018. The resolution involved the case of Mounir Adam, a Saudi citizen sentenced to death, in which Saudi Arabia is believed to have violated its obligations under the law protecting persons with disabilities. The resolution called on Saudi Arabia to provide Adam with effective remedies, yet, despite the committee’s request to suspend his death penalty, the government put him to death as part of a mass slaughter, in April 2019.
The president of the Human Rights Commission believes this initiative to be consistent with its commitments to the recommendations of mandate-holders, within the framework of the Special Procedures of the HRC.
Al-Awwad’s speech disregarded the Saudi government policy’s with special rapporteurs, since, according to ESOHR monitoring, it has received 100 complaints from special rapporteurs since 2010, but has responded to only 67 of them. Even in its response to 67% of the cases, the Saudi government did not seriously engage the recommendations and questions raised by the mandate-holders; rather, it deliberately executed individuals whose death sentences numerous rapporteurs had demanded be lifted. Likewise, Saudi Arabia continues to arbitrarily arrest many activists and human rights advocates.
The ESOHR had previously observed and documented the Saudi government’s disregard for the opinions of UN mechanisms, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and its resolutions in 11 cases, among them the case of businessman Abbas al-Hassan, who was executed by the government in April 2019. The Working Group had requested his release, strongly criticizing the abuses he suffered. Moreover, Saudi Arabia ignored public statements published by special rapporteurs in many cases, as well as their call for the release of dozens of activists still detained by the government, such as Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, NoufbintAbdulaziz, and Israa al-Ghomgham.
Furthermore, when it comes to the 12 requests for visits submitted by UN special rapporteurs, Saudi Arabia vacillates between disregard and delay, despite constant reminders. Over the past three years, the government has accepted one visit each for the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, and the Special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Monitoring of the outcome of these two visits has confirmed the lack of serious acceptance of the special rapporteurs. On April 23, 2019, Saudi Arabia flagrantly disregardedthe demands and recommendations submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, in his post-visit report, regarding many individuals who were collectively beheaded on this date.
Progress in the promotion of human rights:
The president of the Human Rights Commission stated that Saudi Arabia has made notable progress in promoting and protecting human rights at the national level. Al-Awwad cited the issuance and amendment of several human rights regulations, such as the JuvenilesLaw, which prohibits corporal punishment of any person who was not 18 at the time of their crime, and the establishment of several institutional mechanisms, such as the Authority for the Care of Persons with Disabilities and the Family Affairs Council. He also noted that the field of women’s rights has had the greatest share of reform and development.
The facts confirm the falsity of these claims. While al-Awwad extols the amendment of the Juveniles Law in March 2018, Saudi Arabia executed six juveniles in April 2019, and others remain at risk. Likewise, the ESOHR has documented the use of torture against minors in prisons, along with other abuses.
While discussing women’s rights reforms, Saudi Arabia continues to detain women activists and human rights advocates for exercising their legitimate rights, some of whom face harsh sentences, with blatant disregard for their torture and sexual harassment.
The ESOHR asserts that the official Human Rights Commission’s launch of the database comes in the context of official Saudi promotion of measures that do not correspond to effective human rights reforms. The ESOHR also believes that Saudi Arabia aims to mislead the international community, in particular,regarding its dealings with UN mechanisms. This is what the government has persisted in doing via false information in its reports and responses to the HRC and all its mechanisms. Regulatory or administrative mechanisms do not mean anything when they do not create serious and immediate respect for human rights in the country. Indeed, in the case of Saudi Arabia, they reflect the government’s persistently fraudulent and evasive behavior.