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Saudi Arabia 2018: Shredding of Human Rights

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Introduction:

Shocking developments in the human rights situation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia appeared during 2018 in the form of systematic crimes and violations that, in their totality, signal an unprecedented stage in the country’s poor history of human rights. The government has not stopped at extrajudicial or arbitrary killings, unfair trials, torture, arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and the crushing of freedoms at home; rather, it has extended its reach outside the country to ensnare activists in exile fleeing the domestic policy of repression.All these outrages have left citizens and observers increasingly concerned about the country’s general situation, creating concerns about personal safety and raising the possibility thatindividuals and their families will be targeted. The most egregious, bloody, and repugnant incident was the official crime of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which originated from the highest levels of decision-making in the country. This was quickly followed by the news of the crime of harassment and torture of the human rights advocateLoujain,and her fellow female activists. These and other events are a blatant expression of the disasters and afflictions that result from the style and form of governance currently practiced in Saudi Arabia, which completely monopolizes political decision-making, violently abolishes civil society, eliminates the effectiveness of judicial and legislative authority, and totallyremovesany space for media freedom.

The 2018 scene is one of the fruits of a deteriorating phase associated with the new era, especially after the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince in mid-2017, a period whererepression noticeably increased as a method used by the ruling family.The year 2017 was marked by persecution, intimidation, and the breakdown of civil society, according to last year’s report from the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR). However, this was not just a phase: oppression and deterioration are still on the rise.

The killing of journalist Khashoggi was the height of repression and criminality. Thisincident revealed, through muffled screams, the growing accumulation of powers held by the Crown Prince,making plain not only the practices of the state, but also, what is more dangerous, the political and administrative approach followed in the country and the type of men holding power. Violations continued throughout the year, touching all sectors of society and its most vulnerable groups. Official agencies were used to target human rights advocates and activists and to promote torture in prisons, while Saudi Arabia continued to disregard its international obligations to protect rights and hold those responsible for violations and failed to submit violations against women, children, and the elderly.

The reality of Saudi human rights abuses contradicts the statements and promises made by Saudi officials, especially the Crown Prince. On March 5, in an interview with The Telegraph, the Crown Prince said that Saudi Arabia “has made significant progress in human rights in a short time,” while in reality human rights have deteriorated, especially after he became Crown Prince. Nearly ten weeks after his statement, femalehuman rights advocates and activists were arbitrarily detained for legitimate activities.

In an interview with American news channel, CBS, the Crown Prince asserted that allowing women to drive was only the first step toward granting women their rights to “equality with men,” stating that Saudi Arabia had already come “a very long way and has a short way to go.” In contrast, despite lifting the ban on women driving, the intensity of violations against women has increased, with the arrest of leading women’s rights advocates and prominent human rights activists. The Public Prosecution has also requested the execution of human rights advocateEsraa al-Ghomgham.

In an April interview with Time magazine, the Crown Prince indicated that there is movement to significantly minimizecapital punishment without eliminating it completely; however, Saudi Arabia continued to issue and carry out executions. As of December 26, 111 executions had been carried out, 41 of them on drug charges, which are not considered the most serious charges in international law.

The Crown Prince’s appearances in major media outlets helped conceal the worsening human rights situation. Some of the media statements were warmly received politically in some countries and created a misleading international media image of the Crown Prince, who is hostile to human rights. At a time when media outlets were heavily featuring the Crown Prince, they did not also present the other side in a balanced way by giving time toindividuals who contradicted Bin Salman’s narrative. Yet the events of 2018 showed that this media and political celebrationwas not systematic because there were no governmental or civil mechanisms capable of fulfilling those promises. They were presented at a time when the King and Crown Princewere strengthening their graspover all authorities and decisions in the country.

In addition, the killing of journalist Khashoggi and its aftermath sent many signals, one of which is the lack of real legal mechanisms inside Saudi Arabia that would hold accountable perpetrators of violations and crimes, whether individuals or agencies. It appears that the law and its mechanisms are under the full control of the influential.

The violations and crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in 2018, as well as the statements and reports of the United Nations and international reactions, laid bare all the slogans and promises made, especially those promoted by the Crown Prince.

 

Extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions:

On April 5, the Crown Prince promised in a television interview to work to significantly reduce the execution rate. Yet,in August, four months after his statement and in complete contradiction with it, the Public Prosecution, which is directly linked to King Salman, soughtthe death penalty forhuman rights advocate, Esraa al-Ghomgham, and others who are considered accomplices onseveral charges, even though they were peaceful activists whose activities were mainly demonstrations. They include al-Ghomgham’s husband, Mr. Musa al-Hashim, Ahmad al-Matroud, Ali Aweishir, and Khaled al-Ghanem. ThePublic Prosecution also demandeda prison sentence of up to 20 years for activist Mujtaba al-Muzayn on charges related to legitimate demonstrations and expression ofopinions. This matter represented a shocking and unprecedented development in the annals of capital punishment.

The shocks continued in September, when the Public Prosecution also demanded the death penalty be handed down against Sheikh Salman al-Ouda in the first session of his trial, which lacked the necessary conditions for a fair trial. The Public Prosecution’s appetite for the death penalty continued, with its application toDr. Ali al-Amri, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, and Sheikh Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, based on their opinions and activities.

In the first quarter of 2018, the rate of executions rose by 72% compared to the first quarter of 2017. From the beginning of the year through December 26, 143 executions were carried out, 57 of which were based on drug crimes considered non-serious in international law.

Moreover, despite Saudi Arabia’s claims to take measures to give the judiciary independence and protect it from any influences, there are no concrete signs of this;rather, there is an increased use of the Public Prosecutor and the Specialized Criminal Court to target and retaliate against activists, and the verdicts handed down in trials remain unfair, including final death sentences for children on charges such as demonstrating and expression of opinion. The execution may be carried out at any moment.

According to ESOHR monitoring in November, there were 58 detainees under threat of execution in various stages of litigation, eight of whom were children with final death sentences. These are a small fraction of the estimatedhundreds of people threatened with execution in Saudi prisons. According to research conducted on many of the cases of these58 detainees, their trials departed significantly from the requirements of fair trials, and they confirmed to the courts that their confessions were extracted under torture.

Among the detainees under the threat of execution at any moment, 12 of whom are charged with spying for Iran, fear for their lives increased after their files were sent to the Presidency of State Securityon November 1, indicating that the sentences handed down against themcould be carried out at any moment, despite the lack of a fair trial. Some of them were tortured, and some threatened withthe imprisonment oftheir family or wife if they did not sign statements written or fraudulently drafted by investigators. One of them,Yusuf al-Harbi, is known to have attemptedsuicide because of the torture he suffered, according to what isreported in the judgment document.

The ESOHR has also documented the number of foreign nationals executed over the past years, the lack of fair trials for them, and the large number of them executed on drug charges. The documentation indicates that Saudi Arabia executed 504 people from 29 countries from 2004 to 2017, and it executed 71 people from the beginning of 2018 through December 26.

While it is difficult to access all the statements of those sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, especially those accused of drug offenses, the case of Jordanian, Hussein Abu al-Khair, who remains under threat of execution, attests to the nature of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of those accused of drug crimes. UN special rapporteurs contacted Saudi Arabia about his case, and the judiciary again sentenced him to death on November 26, 2017. The trial had been reinstated on March 9, 2017,after the Supreme Court overturned the first death sentence issued on January 27,2015.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia confirmed its insistence on a policy of detaining or concealing corpses, which causesprofound psychological agony to families. The most recent is the body of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, whichraises the number of detained bodies to 32.Thisnumber only dates from January 2016, when social justice activist, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was put to death as part of a mass execution of 47 individuals. It does not count the number of other victims whose bodies have been missing for decades.

 

Torture and cruel or degrading treatment:

In 2018, Saudi Arabia continued to practice torture against detainees in prisons, and itsmethodsbecame increasingly dangerous and unprecedented, resulting in more victims. In November, information emerged confirming that severalfemalehuman rights advocates had been subjected to sexual harassment, beating, whipping, and electric shock, as well as ill-treatment and humiliation, prompting one to attempt suicide.

In March, detainee Ali Jassim al-Nizgha, 61, died in the Mabahith (secret police) prison in Dammam. Reliable information indicated that his family was forbidden to photograph his body, which was later believed to be an effort to conceal the traces of torture that were seen on his body during his funeral preparations. A young man, Habib al-Shuwaikhat, had died in detention in January because of medical negligence and the conditions of his incarceration. This occurred after the Royal Court ignored an urgent and critical letter sent by the young man’s family explaining his deteriorating health and the danger posed tohim by arbitrary detention.

In the General Investigation Directorate (Mabahith) prisons, the Presidency of State Security, which reports directly to the King, practices torture on detainees. One of the detainee victims, Yousef al-Musallab, was subjected to psychological and physical torture that left marks on his face, including redness of the eyes, injuries to his front teeth, and difficulty speaking, while electric shock torture left marks on his hands and fingernails. His health was endangered such that he was transferred to the internal hospital of the Mabahith prison in Dammam more than once. The ESOHR’s reports indicate that the practice of torture continues in Saudi prisons in all its forms – especially since King Salman bin Abdulaziz came to power – including beating on the soles of the feet, electric shock, suspension, burning with cigarettes, kicking, slapping, violent punching, exposure, and sexual harassment.

Saudi Arabia’s torture and cruel treatment affects various detainees, including children and the elderly. Information indicates that individuals over the age of 60 are among those detained, and, despite their age, they are subjected to various forms of torture and cruel treatment, such as withholding of treatment and unhealthy detention conditions.

Despite the many complaints about torture provided to judges by the victims, Saudi Arabia is not known to have investigated or tried any torturers. Likewise, the judiciary continues to base its sentencing decisions on statements extracted under torture. Scores of victims of torture remain under threat of execution, while hundreds of torture victims serve lengthy prison sentences of up to 30 years.

 

Due process:

The trials of detainees in Saudi Arabia lack the conditions offairness, and severe sentences, including the death penalty, are handed down. There are currently 58 detainees at different stages of litigation who are threatened with execution, denied access to a lawyer during the investigation and pre-trial period,and forbidden from communicating with the outside world.

While Saudi Arabia claimed to have approved changes to improve the judiciary in June 2017, most notably the switch from the “Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution” to the “Public Prosecution,” this did not affect the fairness of trials, which requires a real rather than merely cosmetic separation amongpowers. Under the resulting changes, the Public Prosecutionis directly subordinate to the King,while the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution reported to the Ministry of Interior. In addition, the sentences requested by the Public Prosecution reflect the official tendency to criminalize peaceful practices,through the facilitation of bringing the death penalty against detainees despite the many flaws surrounding the evidence and forensics used by the judiciary, the frequent reliance on confessions extracted under torture, or charges that in no way are commensurate with the death penalty. In 2018, the Public Prosecution demanded the execution of human rights advocateEsraa Al-Ghomgham, and other activists charged with, among others, participating in demonstrations, traveling to hostile countries, and storing data. The Public Prosecution also sought the execution of Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, Dr. Ali al-Amri, Sheikh Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, and Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, who are charged with calling for change in Saudi Arabia, rallying public opinion, joining assemblies, and adopting intellectual, religious, and historical opinions different from the official perspective.

 

Child rights:

Although Saudi Arabia has been a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1996, it remains in conflict with the key obligations for protecting children from violations. During 2018, threats to the lives of detained children continued, with eight children remaining under threat of imminent execution after having been subjected to torture and deprived of fair trials. The situation continues despite many international appeals and stands, most recently the statement issued in October by UN experts and rapporteurs urging Saudi Arabia to immediately stop executions.

Furthermore, the emergence of discrepancies in the positions of Saudi Arabia has increased fears for the lives of detained children. Regarding official statements indicating amendments to child law that forbid the death penalty for children, Saudi Arabia replied to a letter from special rapporteurs expressingits belief that the age of a child depends on sensory indicators and not on reaching 18 years of age. This means that Saudi Arabia has given itself wiggle room to determine the age of childhood for each person on a case-by-case basis.

Along with sentencing children to death, Saudi Arabia continues to refuse to hand over the bodies of executed children, including Ali al-Rebh and Walid al-Arayed. Ali al-Rebh was put to death in January 2016, and his family continues to request his body, so they can bury him in his home town of Awamiyah. Walid al-Arayed was killed by live gunfire while standing at the door of his house.

Saudi Arabia continues to detain prisoners arrested as children or for acts they were accused of carrying out when they were children, including Murtaji al-Qarairis and al-Yazin al-Jazairi.

 

Women’s rights:

On June 24, the ban on women driving was lifted. Saudi Arabia promoted this step as the beginning of a new stage for women’s rights in the country and used it prominently to burnish its media image. However, on the contrary, women’s rights have seen an unprecedented deterioration along with the lifting of the driving ban.

In May, the Presidency of State Security – which reports directly to King Salman – undertook sudden repressive measures againstwomen’s rights and human rights leaders and defenders. It launched a series of arrest campaigns, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, and Iman al-Nafjan, as well as Nouf Bint Abdul Aziz, Mayya al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, and Nassima al-Sadah. Visual artist Noor al-Musallam was also arrested. Female activists have been released at various times, such as Walaa al-Shubr, Aisha al-Manaa’, Madiha al-Ajrush, and Hasah al-Sheikh. The government also arrested Dr. Ruqiya al-Muhareb and human rights advocates, Naima al-Matroud and Esraa al-Ghomgham.

State media railed against the detainees and encouraged charges against them before any official investigations or judicial rulings, describing them as “agents” and “traitors.” Some of the information transmitted about the May arrests and their aftermath indicates a growing number of unknown names. This is famously confirmed by therelease of the name of the activist, Shaden al-Enezi, one of the arrestees of May and its aftermath, nearly seven months after her arrest. This occurs sometimes because of threats or promises from the government to families, which encourages them to keep quiet.

Whereas the Public Prosecutor already demanded the death penalty in August for human rights advocateEsraa al-Ghamgham, in connection with her peaceful rights activism, it is feared that the demand for the death penalty will be repeated in other similar cases of detained women. According to one state-run newspaper, they may face punishments up to and including the death penalty.

These arrests and violations are in addition to written or traditional laws that still perpetuate discrimination against women, particularly the issue of male guardianship over women. Despite the issuance of orders allowing women to obtain some services (putting aside the extent of the effectiveness of these orders and their application in real life), women are still prohibited from traveling without the permission of their guardian, and some institutions still refuse to employ women without the consent of their guardians. In addition, for example, a prisoner is prevented from leaving prison at the end of her sentence unless a man comes to fetch her, which means she may have to stay in prison longer if her “guardian” decides not to show up.

 

Freedom of opinion and expression and the right to assembly and association:

In 2018, Saudi campaigns against freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble and form associations continued. From the first month of the year, on January 25, the Specialized Criminal Court handed down prison sentences totalling 21 years against Mohammed al-Atibi and Abdullah al-Atawi. The sentences rest on charges including creating an association without a license, violation of a prior pledge not to engage in activism, participation in the preparation and formulation of several statements, and supporting and signing statements with the goal of dividing the community and violating the security of the country. They were also accused of challenging judicial rulings in cases of prisoners of conscience and of undertaking a hunger strike to compel the concerned parties to act.

In addition, there are no signs that the NGO and civil institutionslaw issued in November 2015 has in any way contributed to lifting the ban on institutional and independent human rights activities. There are still detainees charged with engaging in activity in human rights organizations, and the penalties for charges of human rights activity remain severe.

Also, several requests for the establishment of human rights organizations, submitted by activists known for their struggle and critical attitudes to human rights violations, were not approved. In July, activist, Nassima al-Sadah, was arrested. She had tried since the beginning of 2017 to establish an association under the name “Nun” to defend women’s rights, without receiving a reply.

Saudi Arabia continues to arrest poets, writers, and journalists, including poet, Nawaf al-Rashid, in May after being handed over to Saudi Arabia by Kuwait and forcibly concealed. Nawaf was not known as an opposition activist. His father had been mysteriously killed in Algeria in 2003.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia increased the intensity of its violations by targeting activists and human rights advocates residing abroad, with the aim of retaliating against them by harassing their families at home. In March, Saudi Arabia arrested elderly Aida al-Ghamdi and her two sons. The opposition activities of her son, Abdulla al-Ghamdi, who lives in London, are believed to have been linked to their arrest. Saudi Arabia also targeted family members of Mr. Ali al-Hajji, Omar bin Abdulaziz, and Sheikh Hassan al-Saleh Ali al-Dibisi.

 

Human rights advocates:

The year 2018 represented a new and greater phase of Saudi repression of men and women defending human rights, extending all the way to demanding the death penalty against them.

In January, activist Noha al-Balawi was arrested arbitrarily, taken to Tabuk prison, and later released, in connection with her publication of widely-circulated video clipsdemanding rights. The Specialized Criminal Court also sentenced human rights advocate Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib to seven years in prison for human rights demands and criticism of official hate speech.

In May, Saudi Arabia launched a series of arbitrary arrests of prominent human rights advocates such as Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Iman al-Nafjan, Mohammed al-Rabiah, and Abdulaziz al-Mash’al, as well as human rights advocate and lawyer, Ibrahim al-Mudeimigh, before releasing him in December. These arrests have been marred by numerous violations, including the enforced disappearance of detainees and the launching of a widespread, distorted, and harsh official media campaign. In June, human rights advocates NoufAbdulaziz and Mayya al-Zahrani were also arbitrarily arrested, joined in July by Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah.

In May, a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), Mohammed al-Bajadi, was arrested, joining his fellowACPRA members and founders who are currently detained: Dr. Abdullah al-Hamed, Dr. Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdulaziz al-Shabaily, Omar al-Saeed, Issa al-Hamed, Abdulkarim Al-Khader, Abdul Rahman al-Hamed, and Fawzan Al-Harbi. In September, Abdullah al-Hamed, Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Walid Abu al-Khair all received the Alternative Nobel Prize for their tireless and courageous efforts to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia.

In a dangerous and unprecedented step, the Public Prosecution requested for the first time the death penalty for a human rights advocate during the trial of Esraa al-Ghomgham, which began in August, 33 months after her arrest. The Public Prosecution’s demand for the death penalty came even thoughall the accusations against her were for peaceful and legal human rights activities. Here trial began with five other activists, four of whom were charged with the death penalty by the prosecutor (her husband, Mr. Musa al-Hashim, Ahmad al-Matroud, Ali Aweishir, and Khaled al-Ghanem). The prosecutionsought up to 20 years in prison for the remaining defendant, Mujtaba al-Muzayn.

The Specialized Criminal Court also issued a six-year prison sentence for human rights advocate, Issa al-Nakhifi, because of his activism and calls for reform, including reform of the popular election of parliament.

 

Freedom of the press:

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s violations of freedom of the press reached a critical and unprecedented level. Following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it became the world’s most prominent country in media headlines about press freedom violators.

Saudi Arabia claimed that it was fighting corruption following a campaign of arrests in 2017. However, instead of opening the field for the media to play its role in line with Saudi Arabia’s claim to fight corruption, the state arrested journalist Saleh al-Shehhi, and sentenced him on February 8 to five years in prison, followed by five more years during which he is forbidden to travel.The sentence resulted from his televised criticism of the major corruption in the Royal Court, which is the highest authority in the country.

In October, Saudi Arabia acknowledged the killing of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Khashoggi, who had expressed opinions contrary to the official line and criticized the Crown Prince, was killed by government employeesclose to the prince. UN special rapporteurs have called for an international investigation into the incident. Official Turkish reports noted that Saudi Arabia has not cooperated adequately with the investigation and has not disclosed the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body after its dismemberment. Various entities have pointed to the Crown Prince’s direct responsibility for this crime, but there are no independent authorities in Saudi Arabia that can even think of questioning or prosecuting Bin Salman. The issue was also subject to politics at the international level, and a clear approach to dealing with the crime, according to independent international mechanisms, did not emerge until the end of 2018.

Saudi laws and policies are not only incapable of protecting freedom of the press, they are also effectively enacting systematic violations of freedom of the press through mechanisms such as the anti-terrorism law, the anti-cybercrime law, and others. Journalists are still in prison, and their numbers are rising, including Alaa Berenji, who ended his fourth year in prison in 2018 for his journalistic work and expression of opinion, and Nazir al-Majid, who suffereda series of attacks following his participation in the 2011 demonstrations and an article he wrote, “I protest, therefore I am human” and who is in prison for seven years. Saudi Arabia also launched a series of arrests of journalists, bloggers, and writers, includingNouf Abdulaziz, Iman al-Nafjan, Dr. Ali Al-Amri, and Mohammed al-Suhaimi. Despite these abuses, as well as the killing of photographers and journalists over the past years, there have been no investigations or trials of those responsible for these violations and crimes.

Saudi Arabia ranks 169th out of 180 countries in the Journalists Without Borders 2018 international ranking of press freedom. In October, the organization warned that Saudi Arabia’s place will drop in the next ranking following the increasing modes of violence against journalists. The approach followed in the country clearly represents a danger and a threat to journalists.

 

Freedom of religion:

Saudi Arabia has continued to promote changes in its approach to religious freedoms. On more than one occasion, the Crown Prince has indicated that the country will return to“moderate Islam,” and, during 2018, he visited and met with various Christian figures.

Yet, internally, policies restricting religious freedoms have continued. In July, a citizen, Zuhair Hussein Bou Saleh, was arrested to serve a prior sentence of jail and lashingthat had been handed down on charges stemming from practicing his right to worship, including group prayer at his home. He remains a prisoner at the time of this report, despite completing his sentence.

In addition, the changes adopted by Saudi Arabia do not include a remedy for thediscourse against internal religious components. Arrests are still happening because of routine religious practices or because of public debates about differences with religious views officially adopted by the state. This includes the arrest of Sheikh Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, whose trial began with the Public Prosecution demanding the death penalty because of his adoption of religious views that differ from the official ideology. At a symposium organized by the ESOHR on October 10, speakers pointed out that Saudi Arabia also uses hard-line religious interpretations to execute the most vulnerable dissident groups, which is in stark contrast to its claims of openness and moderation.

The Crown Prince’s assurances – particularly in the American magazine, The Atlantic – that the Shia in Saudi Arabia enjoy a normal life and that there are no problems with Shiism, are not apparent on the ground. In September, the government forbid the people of Qatif governorate from holding the annual unified mourning procession, as part of several repressive measures taken against the annual Ashura event. It also detained some of those who participated in poetry readings at these eventsand interrogated them for hours.

These contradictory steps in dealing with the issue of religious freedoms demonstrated that Saudi Arabia does not operate according to clear standards. Its actions were not consistent, and there appeared to be a selectivity between its internal and external moves in terms of domestic and foreign dealings.

 

Cultural rights:

Amid the continuing targeting of freedom of speech and lack of respect for multiculturalism, Saudi Arabia has systematically targeted poets expressing their opinions.

In January, reports indicated that four poets were sentenced to 15 years in prison: Abdullah Atqan al-Salmi, Mohammed Eid al-Huweiti, Munif al-Munqara, and Sultan al-Shaibani al-Otaibi. They were released in February after being arrested in October 2017, following a poets’ conversation in which they criticized the Crown Prince and his advisors. On March 18, reports were that the poet, Mohammed bin Hazmi al-Qarni, was freed after being held for more than two months without charges.

 

International reactions:

International criticism of Saudi practices increased during 2018. At the 37thsession of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which began on February 26, Iceland called for holding HRC member states accountable for their violations, including Saudi Arabia, calling its war on Yemen foolish. Norway also expressed unease at the serious situation of human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia, while Ireland noted deep concern that Saudi Arabia continues to use the death penalty, and Australia expressed worries about the use of the death penalty on children.

During the 38th session, which began on June 18, Norway called on Saudi Arabia to fulfill its obligations as a member of the HRC and expressed its concern about the violations against lawyers, journalists, and women. Iceland considered Saudi Arabia’s move to lift the ban on women driving insufficient, and said it was concerned about the increase in executions. For its part, Germany criticized Saudi executions and stated that they violate international law, target children, and ignore complaints of torture. In turn, the European Union referred to the situation of human rights advocates, stressing that they are not consistent with Vision 2030, while Belgium pointed out that Saudi violations undermine claims of reform.

During the 39thsession of the HRC, which opened on September10, both Finland and France expressed concern about the arrest of women human rights advocates, while Iceland called the recent demands for the death penalty alarming. For its part, Norway called on Saudi Arabia to protect freedoms and to ensure a functioning environment forhuman rights advocates. Iceland reiterated its concern about Saudi Arabia’s violation of the HRC’s basic standards, while Belgium opined that human rights violations threatened the credibility of Saudi promises. The EU stressed its grave concern about reports indicating that the Public Prosecutionhas called for the execution of activists and voiced concern about the arbitrary arrests happeningamidst the promotion of changes and reforms announced by Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030.

At the 31stsession of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Saudi Arabia submitted its third national report, which was a concerted attempt to mislead by presenting false facts and information about the human rights situation in the country. Following its submission, the report received hundreds of recommendations from dozens of countries urging them to fix the worseningsituation.

Outside the HRC framework, the Norwegian foreign minister, Marie Eriksen Søreide, speaking in front of parliament in June,described the situation of women in Saudi Arabia as unacceptable, saying it raises questions about the seriousness of reform talk. In August, Canada expressed “deep concern” over a new wave of arrests of human rights activists, including activist, Samar Badawi, which has strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada.

On May 30, the European Parliament issued a resolution concerning human rights in Saudi Arabia, calling for an end to the persecution of the female activistsdetained in May (Loujain, Aziza, Iman, and others) and condemning the repression of male and female activists, while at the same time praising these activists. It also called fora review of the system of institutions and civil associations, an immediate halt in the death penalty as a step towards its elimination, and an end to the incitement of hatred and discrimination against religious minorities.

 

UN bodies:

Saudi Arabia is a member of the HRC for the fourth time and has ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1950), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1996), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1997), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1997), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (2000), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008).

Saudi Arabia’s violation of its international obligations has prompted further criticism. Since the beginning of 2018, the UN apparatus has begun to criticize the kingdom’s human rights record. On January 2, five UN rapporteurs issued a statement pointing to the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, calling for the protection of civil society and regretting the continued use of anti-terrorism and security laws against human rights advocates.

In March, seven rapporteurs called for Saudi Arabia to halt the death sentences against Abbas al-Hassan and others accused of spying for Iran. They also expressed concern that detainees were tortured during interrogation to extract confessions.

In his annual report in April, the special rapporteur on human rights advocates, Mr. Michel Forst, criticized Saudi Arabia’s abuse of UN mechanisms, pointing out that the arguments it makes to justify its practices against human rights advocates are inconsistent with international standards.

In June, UN experts and rapporteurs called Saudi human rights practices blatantly inconsistent, challenging the country to immediately release femaleactivists and human rights advocates.

In October, UN experts and rapporteurs strongly condemned Saudi practices against femalehuman rights advocates and urgently demanded their unconditional release and the dismissal of charges against them.

In June, seven UN experts and rapporteurs sent a letter to Saudi Arabia asking for clarifications and information on the arrest cases of Loujainal-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Maana’, and Mohammed al-Bajadi.

In October, on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, a statement was issued by United Nations rapporteurs and experts, in which they stressed that the United Nations and the international community had failed to address the enforced disappearance and murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. They also argue that recent facts have once again proved the considerable expansion of political incitement against journalists.

In the October statement, the rapporteurs and experts urged Saudi Arabia to immediately halt the executions of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Salman Al Quraysh, and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, who have all been detained since they were children or whose charges go back to when they were children.

In a July legal opinion, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the immediate release of human rights advocate Walid Abu al-Khair, an investigation of the circumstances surrounding his detainment, and appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights. The group expressed its concern that his arrest was part of Saudi practices that may constitute crimes against humanity.

In March, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women submitted its final recommendations to Saudi Arabia, including recommendations to amend laws, protect women, and strengthen the role of femalehuman rights advocates.

During its 20thsession in October, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities issued a resolution on the case of disabled and condemned-to-death protestor, Munir Adam, stating that Saudi Arabia is violating its obligations under the Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act and called upon the government to provide him with effective remedies, including the investigation of his allegations of torture.

Likewise, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has criticized Saudi practices on more than one occasion, with a repetition that UNHCR had not pledged in previous years. In May, UNHCHR’s statement highlighted the disappearance of Nawaf al-Rashid as part of Saudi Arabia’s arbitrary arrests. In May, the UNHCHR also issued a statement calling on Saudi Arabia to release men and women detained on the basis of their human rights activities and to ensure their protection.

In July, UNHCHR voiced its concern about the continued arbitrary arrests of human rights advocates and activists in Saudi Arabia, including women’s rights advocates, and called for their release.

Upon assuming the role of UNHCHR, Michelle Bachelet, in her opening remarks to the 39thsession of the HRC on September 10, raised the Saudi file, expressing her deep concern about violations that contradict official promises.

During 2018,special rapporteurs contacted Saudi Arabia about several cases and asked for clarifications about alleged violations. In February, rapporteurs contacted Saudi Arabiaabout the cases of 32 detainees at risk of execution. In March, special rapporteurs sent a letter to Saudi Arabia about the war in Yemen and inquired about the case of activist Noha al-Balawi.

In June, special rapporteurs sent a letter about the arrest of Iman al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Mohammed al-Bajadi. Also in June, they sent a letter about issues related to the war in Yemen. In July, special rapporteurs sent a letter about human rights advocateKhalid al-Ameer. In August, two letters arrived in Saudi Arabia: one about the war in Yemen and the other about the blockade of Qatar.

In October, three letters from special rapporteurs were sent to Saudi Arabia. The first one concerned journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the second one related to the cases of six detained women, Esraa al-Ghomgham, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz, Mayya al-Zahrani, and Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi; and the third letter sent by the rapporteurs asked about the cases of six children sentenced to death: Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Salman Quraish, and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj.

Saudi Arabia ignored some of the rapporteurs’ messages and did not respond or gave negative responses to other messages.

 

Conclusion:

In 2018, Saudi violations reached an all-time high in the history of the country, with the emergence of types and levels of crimes and violations that had not occurredpreviously, such as the mass arrest campaigns of women, the demand for the death penaltyfor a female human rights advocate, and  the sadistic killing of a journalist in a Saudi consulate that is supposed to serve and protect its citizens abroad.

The deterioration of the human rights situation coincides with the Crown Prince’s promises of reform, which is a reliable method of misinformation and lack of credibility in official statements.

The deterioration of 2018 has proved that unilateral control over power is a grave threat to human rights and that promisesdo not materialize without an independent institutional structure that provides a suitable environment for the functioning of an effective civil society and free media capable of playing a vital role in halting human rights violations and crimes.

What happened in 2018 spells out Saudi Arabia’s acute lack of good governance, including full respect for human rights, the rule of law, active participation, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, political empowerment of the people, and equality. Lack of transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness to the needs of the people were the salient features of governance in Saudi Arabia underthe reign of King Salman in 2018.

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