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Instead of improving, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has steadily deteriorated in recent years. Frustration is growing among Saudi citizens who see no prospect for any sort of reform on the part of the government.
The ranks of prisoners of conscience have steadily increased in recent years. Many of these political prisoners languish in jail, as the Saudi government often denies them the right to a fair trial. The death penalty is still commonly implemented in the country. Saudi Arabia continues to violate the rights of 9 million women and roughly the same number of migrant workers. It also must be noted that Saudi Arabia has yet to take any concrete steps towards the nearly 200 recommendations it fully accepted in the most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Activists and dissidents critical of the government are routinely subjected to enforced disappearance. This comes in blatant violation of The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED).
The practice of enforced disappearances has greatly increased following the public unrest of 2011. Instead of following legal procedures for arrests, Saudi police kidnapped individuals without warrants and often times without informing them of the reason of their detention.
During these periods of enforced disappearance, the Saudi government subjects many of its detainees to torture and mistreatment. Most interrogations take place without the presence of a lawyer. Additionally, enforced disappearances can last extended periods of time, leaving the detainee’s family without knowledge of their relative’s welfare.
Despite occupying a seat in the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia remains a noncompliant signatory to the ICCPED.
In Saudi Arabia, there are many laws that aim to restrict and criminalize activism and freedom of expression. The recently-passed Anti-terrorism Law and Anti-Cybercrime Law are just two examples of laws through which authorities quell dissent. Saudi Arabia uses such laws to justify systematic repression under a veneer of legality.
Excessive Use of Force
Saudi authorities routinely employ the use of excessive force while confronting public demonstrations. This unjustified and unexplained use of lethal force has led to as many as 20 deaths and 70 serious injuries in the period from November 2011 to February 2014. This number does not include many who have not come forward for fear of retaliation.
Excessive force was used to crush peaceful protests that broke out in February 2011, in a clear violation of international treaties which the Saudi authorities have nominally agreed to. Also, this excessive use force ignores many international laws as (Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by General Assembly resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979), (Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990).
Civil Society Institutions
In the report submitted by Saudi Arabia during the 11th session of the United Nations UPR Working Group, the Saudi government explained that the Shura Council Law regulates the activity of civil societies. However, the Shura Council is a consultative body that has no actual power to implement its recommendations.
United Nations Human Rights Council member states have made recommendations to Saudi Arabia urging it to expedite the establishment and implementation of laws necessary to facilitate the establishment of civil society institutions. These recommendations often emphasize limiting state intervention in the activities of civil societies and call for the abolishment of laws that criminalize civil society activity.
Four years later, in its response to the2013 UPR recommendations, Saudi Arabia reported that it would pass legislation permitting the establishment of civil societies in the near future. This legislation has yet to be implemented.
Multiple Human Rights Council member states have reiterated their calls to speed up the legalization of civil societies. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia has not supported setting a deadline to implement these laws, nor has it agreed to be obligated to set such a deadline. Currently, this important legislation has been put off for more than 8 years, although the Shura Council approved it in 2008. There are no signs that support Saudi assurances of progress in regards to implementing this legislation, and it even appears as though the state is regressing in its treatment of civil society institutions, as multiple groups have been banned/criminalized in recent years.
Human Rights Defenders
Saudi Arabia’s ongoing crack down on human rights defenders best exemplifies the government’s hypocrisy. The UPR report submitted by Saudi Arabia in October 2013 states explicitly the recognition of human rights defender sand the recognition of the Declaration on the Right and responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
However, the government continues to target human rights defenders through legislation that limits and criminalizes their activities. International human rights organizations are monitoring and documenting the situation in the kingdom.
Freedom of Belief
Despite claims of protecting religious freedom, the Saudi government prohibits non-Muslims from practicing their religion in public. Even within the Muslim community, the government continuously persecutes religious minorities including the Shia, the Ismaili, the Yazidi, and the Ash’ari.
Religious minorities face different types of discrimination from several governmental institutions. Saudi Arabia has not yet taken any measures to protect these minorities from discrimination and persecution.
The Freedom of Assembly and Association and the Freedom of Expression
The Saudi government has not proven its respect for the right to free assembly, despite its accession to international agreements that explicitly confirm this as a right. Hundreds of detainees remain in prisons on charges, such as demonstrating, picketing and joining peaceful assemblies. Many of these prisoners have also been subjected to severe torture during interrogations and continue to face this treatment in spite of Saudi Arabia’s full acceptance of recommendations to protect freedom of assembly.
It is also clear that an ever increasing number of prisoners of conscience have had their freedom of expression suppressed. They are also subjected to long sentences due to charges relating to their opinions. Non-official opinions are not given the chance to be shared in the media, which is controlled by the state.
Many Saudi judges have accepted confessions extracted from detainees during torture. Judges largely ignored when detainees made allegations to prove that they had been subjected to torture. The judges have given the death penalty against demonstrators and activists, as well as a rule with several provisions of a lengthy prison term that could reach up to 30 years.
The prosecutions that are being brought against demonstrators and activists lack many necessary principles for a fair trial and remain that way today. The prosecutors do not rely on a codified procedure for sanctions, and judges rely in part on judgments of personal hearsay that can lead to differentiations from one judge to another.
At times the government allows Saudi official media to adopt a prejudgment against the activists before an official verdict, forming a methodology that aims to distort their position. In addition to forbidding lawyers, relatives and journalists from speaking with the media, anyone who does communicate with international media and organizations is prosecuted.
Migrant Workers Rights
The legislations applied in Saudi Arabia for immigrant workers do not meet the actual needs of the workers. There are around 9 million immigrant workers coming from many countries including Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. They make up to half of the workforce and suffer from a variety of abuses such as exploitation at work especially if the workers come from countries with low educational standards.
The system concerning immigrant workers is characterized with substantial features that make the whole system weak, where the worker is strictly associated with his or her employer and the relationship is based on sponsorship. This type of sponsorship presents an opportunity for some sponsors to abuse their position by blackmailing the workers, through threats of extradition or imprisonment. In many cases, the employer will control workers by confiscating their passports, which in turn suspends all necessary procedures conducted by the worker without permission from the sponsor. The sponsor is also able to forcefully deport the worker without the permission or desire of the worker. In addition, workers are assigned to work beyond legal hours continuously without break. Most workers are housed in inappropriate accommodations.
What adds to their struggle is the lack of a system of protection that helps in the extraction of their rights. The official institutions do not show an interest in immigrant workers’ rights in a manner that preserves their dignity. So it is often that immigrant workers are treated poorly when dealing with State institutions such as police, prisons, courts or accommodation centers.
The government has carried out the execution of many foreign workers in unfair judicial conditions, where the accused men were prevented from having a lawyer or an interpreter. Also, domestic workers, who are mostly women, are susceptible to many physical, psychological and sexual abuses. In the obvious shortcomings to ensure the dignity and rights of immigrant workers by the Saudi government, some countries have prevented and restricted their citizens from travelling to work in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government did not accede to the (International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1990).
Women continue to be banned from using public services, accepting medical treatments and travel without the consent of her guardian.
Among the diverse needs of women and with the presence and support of public opinions that calls to improve legislation relating to women.
Some activists have launched a national campaign urging citizens of both sexes to support the right for women to drive; which is appreciated by women all over the world. However, the response of the government was almost non-existent and even counterproductive, in some cases becomes more repressive.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s accession since September 2000 (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), there is still a large distance between reality and the implications of the Convention. Rather, the reality of the case is that it is in factopposing to contents of the Convention.
Furthermore, domestic violence did not receive an effective legislative mechanism, because the government has failed to activate the bill back in 2011 to combat violence against women and children.
In September 1997, Saudi Arabia signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Saudi government accepted the Convention against Torture in February2001 with a royal decree. This law has become part of national law which authorizes citing of provisions in front of the courts, other judicial and administrative authorities in the Kingdom. However, torture is still carried out widely, and is backed by the government to continue judicial impunity.
Torture in Saudi prisons is committed through several ways, including the prevention of the use of toilets, prohibition of the practice of worship, electrically shocking various places of the body including sensitive areas, and severe beatings. The use of heat and cold conditions against the prisoners, pouring coldwater over them, the use of excessive force when arrested leaving the bullets shot in the bodies of the prisoners. In addition to this, torture is carried out through the prevention of sleep, beatings with plastic and rubber hoses in various places of the body. Uttering phrases that degrade; which is racist and disrespectful, which also affects beliefs, family and honor.
Torture by the Saudi authorities is mainly practiced on the prisoners of conscience, demonstrators and others. Saudi intelligence prisons are specifically allocated for political prisoners, which allows them the opportunity to falsely charge a number of the prisoners. The Saudi judiciary is issued with false confessions from prisoners that were extracted under torture in most cases.
Evictions and Forced Displacement
In 2009, The Saudi government carried out evictions in large areas of a region bordering Yemen in the province of Jazan. This area has a high population density and low standard of living. The displacement of the inhabitants of 450villages has displaced 12 thousand citizens. Saudi Arabia does not regulate these evictions, and it rarely compensates the evicted citizens.
The Saudi armed forces have indiscriminately bombarded several populated areas on the other side of the border, claiming the lives of dozens of children, women and elderly without moral justification. After the end of the war, the Saudi authority, prevented thousands of residents to return to their homes and land, and has built an iron fence. This led to many of the residents to join peaceful sit-ins front of the fence, but unfortunately they have been prevented from exercising their right to peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins. Some of their children have been arrested and continue to be in detention for years until this very day.
This is a clear violation of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Rights of Stateless Individuals
The dire situation of stateless individuals in Saudi Arabia is often unaddressed. The daily lives of stateless individuals are paved with endless obstacles. The Saudi law does not guarantee them any of their basic rights. As a result, they suffer a great deal in order to obtain basic life necessities such as medical care, education, travel, and employment. The Saudi government has not dealt with this issue effectively, therefore the stateless, often called Bedoon, continue to suffer to this day.
Death Penalty and its Punishment
Death penalty is often executed in Saudi Arabia without the requirements for a fair trial, as public trial; right to counsel; a translator to non-arabic speaker.
In addition, death penalty is often applied to powerless individual with no government connection, unlike those with government power who often do not face such a charge or face minimum charges regardless of their crimes.
In 2014 alone, 90 individuals were executed including 2 women; 53 Saudi; 20 Pakistani and 7 Syrian. Those individuals were charged with different crimes as murder; drug; witchcraft and rape.
International Perspectives on the Human Rights Situation in Saudi Arabia
When Saudi Arabia presented its report on human rights for the year 2014, it was received with wide international condemnation at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations from the European Union, as well as several NGOs.
Saudi Arabia, a member state of the human rights council, must be held accountable for its ongoing violations of international human rights law. Further pressure must be put on the government to implement tangible reforms.