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Human rights organisations expressed their concerns over the worsening conditions that the Palestinians and the Rohingyas are experiencing in Saudi Arabia, in addition to a quarter of a million stateless individuals (Bedon). The organisations called on the Saudi government to take serious and rapid steps to address their situations in accordance to its international commitments.
Three specialized organisations: ESOHR, Institution of Stateless & Integration and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights have submitted a report to the UN HRC about the Bedon situation in Saudi Arabia among the framework of the thirty-first session of the Universal Periodic Review, in which countries and the Saudi government’s organizations discuss the various conditions of human rights in the country in November 2018. The three organisations focused on two main cases in Saudi Arabia : discrimination against women in laws related to nationality and the continued statelessness that some groups suffer from, as well as shedding light on the situation of the Palestinians and the Rohingyas situations in the country.
Furthermore, the report referred that Saudi Arabia didn’t make any comment during the previous UPR in 2013 on those who don’t have any nationality on its territory or are deprived of it; also it didn’t address the direct discrimination that exists in the Nationality Law, and it just confined itself to pointed out to some efforts on the cases of children of Saudi women who are married from non-Saudi.
The report explained that there is a gap in the current Saudi citizenship law, and pointed out to the challenges that many individuals and groups face to receive their right to citizenship, the thing that violates the Saudi international commitments. Although it didn’t ratified the International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the UN Statelessness and Refugee Convention, yet it is, as a member in the UN, bound by the UN Charter and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which confirms that “Each one has the right to nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrary deprived from his citizenship or deny his right to change his nationality”. In addition, Saudi Arabia is a party in other treaties that preserve the right to nationality without any discrimination, such as the CRC and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Likewise, the organisations clarified the legal flaws; according to the Saudi Nationality Law the children of Saudi fathers obtain the Saudi nationality at birth, in spite of the child’s place of birth, but the Saudi women cannot automatically transfer her Saudi nationality to her children. Although the law permits the children of Saudi women to submit a request after adulthood, yet it is much different from the criteria of gender equality and children’s rights also it doesn’t grant the mothers the same rights as the fathers and it deprives children from many rights in their childhood. Moreover, Saudi women do not have the right to give their nationality to the foreign husband, which is a right for Saudi males solely.
Concerning the Bedon, the report pointed out to their huge number in Saudi Arabia, as the official estimations clarify that they are nearly a quarter of a million. This group is mainly composed of tribes’ descendants who were not registered in the state’s record since nearly half a century ago. Nowadays, the Saudi government considers the Bedon “illegal residence” and not capable to obtain the Saudi citizenship; instead identity documents known as the “black cards” are issued by the government since 2009; which refers to a “residence permit for five years”. They don’t have any other choice to obtain a citizenship in other places of the world; adding that Saudi Arabia didn’t succeed in solving their problem and it does not protect their humanitarian and legal rights. Likewise, the repression and the limited civil liberties reduce the social support for them, unlike other countries in the gulf where public sympathy with the Bedon is better.
The report pointed out that the Saudi government took pledges on the Bedon to submit documents to prove their origin until 2020, the thing that raises concerns on the possibility of exercising more cruel choices on them or even deporting them from the country.
The organizations also addressed the large number of the Rohingyas residing in Saudi Arabia. Even though there are no official statistics, some estimations refer that their number might reach nearly half a million. Although the government has made some positive steps toward them, it is not completely enough to solve the legal situation as the residency permits are for short term and the steps didn’t include all the Rohingyas in the country and do not guarantee access to all rights. In addition, these steps don’t allow the children who are born in Saudi Arabia to obtain a citizenship as the Covenant of the Rights of the Children impose.
The report also referred to the issue of the Palestinians case in Saudi Arabia who are estimated by more than 250 thousand individuals living in Saudi Arabia since the 1950s who only have a residency permit, exempt from the naturalization procedures, not capable to benefit from some public services and are exposed to deportation, specially with the absence of the Palestinian Relief Organisation in Saudi Arabia and therefore they do not have the right to have the basic protection that is granted for citizens or refugees.
The report listed the impacts of statelessness in Saudi Arabia, especially the significant violations of rights including the lack of access to public education, health care and other services, in addition to the lack of access to work, impediment of family reunification, social alienation and psychological challenges. Furthermore, the report referred that the Bedon in Saudi Arabia are particularly marginalized and may be the poorest among the Saudi population. Likewise, with the recent economic changes, taxations and doubling prices, the report mentioned that it is likely to worsen their economic situation.
The organisations submitted a number of recommendations to address statelessness and the intersectional discrimination in Saudi Arabia, as follows:
- Ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to modify the citizenship law to enable the Saudi women to give their nationality to their spouse and children without any restrictions or delay, equally with men, according to the international standards.
- Take all the necessary steps to facilitate the way to citizenship and full rights related to nationality for those who are identified as Bedon, stateless individuals.
- Take all the necessary steps to implement comprehensive safeguards against statelessness for any child born in Saudi Arabia, which protects the right of all children to obtain the citizenship without discrimination.
- Ensure that all stateless refugees and immigrants residents of Saudi Arabia, such as Palestinians and Rohingya, have access to rights, services and a secure residency. Also, ensure that all children born in Saudi Arabia are granted citizenship in accordance with the obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Take all the necessary steps for accession to the statelessness conventions of the years 1954 and 1961, and implement them completely.