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The UN committee against torture publishes the report of final concluding observations on torture in Saudi Arabia.

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The UN committee against Torture recently published its findings of Its latest review of Saudi Arabia’s compliance to the UN convention against torture (UNCAT). This report was issued following an in-depth assessment of their state party report, as part of their second periodic review in May 2016.

The review, which was held in Geneva, was attended by a large official Saudi delegation of 36 Individuals, as well as by several NGOs who actively participated in the review. After considering the submission of the state party report, the state delegation and NGOs interventions and 7 NGO shadow reports, the concluding remarks of the torture committee reveal that alarming concerns continue to prevail in Saudi Arabia with respect to their state party obligations in the prevention of Torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. For ESOHR’s shadow report click here.

After acceding to UNCAT in 1997, Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the treaty are legally binding, and give the committee authoritative powers to examine and make recommendations to the corresponding state parties. Despite the treaties legally binding status, the mandatory state party report was submitted by Saudi Arabia after a delay of 10 years.

The initial part of the report, which briefly outlined positive aspects of implementation of the convention, was overshadowed by numerous serious concerns that come under the jurisdiction of the treaty. The committee’s remarks also made reference to several cases of human rights defenders and activists, throughout the report, adding a human face to the committee’s concluding observations.

The concerns raised and their corresponding recommendations are summarised below:

·         Concerns regarding the lack of a definition and criminalization of torture led to recommendations for revisions to domestic law provisions, to include a clear definition of torture and provisions which clarify it’s non-derogable nature. Further recommendations highlighted the need for impartial and prompt investigations of instances and allegations of torture, coupled with the prosecution of torture perpetrators, even if such allegations occurred extra-territorially. Specific reference was made to Waleed Abu Khair.

·         Concerns regarding corporal punishment, prompted recommendations to end the practise of flogging and amputations and to reflect this in domestic legislation. Specific reference was made to the case of Raif Badawi.

·         Concerns for fundamental legal safeguards contained in the 2013 law of criminal procedures were highlighted, particularly with regards to restricted access to legal counsel and family. This has prompted several recommendations seeking to ensure that those deprived of their liberty are granted prompt access to a lawyer and able to contact family members, and any provisions which negate this safeguards to be repelled. Further recommendations included ensuring the right to request an independent medical examination, access to languages assistance and to safeguarding an individuals right brought promptly before a judge.

·         Concerns surrounding Counter-terrorism laws, the Specialized criminal court (SCC) and Independence of the judiciary were highlighted, prompting recommendations to redraft the definition of terrorism in a narrow manner, to ensure it would not be used to target non-violent advocacy, particularly related to human rights. The revision of laws that allow for incommunicado detention and restricted access to legal counsel were urged. Recommendations were offered calling for independence of the SCC from the Ministry of Interior and for independence of the judiciary in conformance with international norms. Specific reference was made to the cases of Alaa Brinji, Abdulkareem Al-Khoder, Fadhel Al-Manasef, Ali Al-Nimr, Dawood Al-Marhoon and Abdullah Al-Zaher.

·         The targeting of human rights defenders and journalists prompted recommendations to acknowledge the legitimacy of peaceful criticism and review ofall individual cases highlighted as well as other prisoners affected by this concern. Specific reference was made to Abdul Karim Al-Khodar, Waleed Abul Khayr, Omar Al- Sa’id, Raif Bdawi, Mohammed Saleh Al-Bajady and Abdulaziz Al-Shubaily.

·         Reports of coerced confessions led to recommendations to ensure that such confessions are inadmissible as evidence against the accused.

·         Concerns regarding illegal practises and violations undertaken by Al-Mabahith (General investigation service) prompted recommendations for greater monitoring, transparency and reporting of individuals detained by this body, as well as ensuring an independent monitoring body undertakes visits to Mabahith detention facilities. Specific reference was made to Saud Mukhtar Al-Hashimi and Sulaiman Al-Rashoodi. Concerns regarding the commission for the ‘Promotion of virtue and vice’ were also asserted, with calls to ensure that the newly introduced legal provisions, which restricts their powers be strictly enforced.

·         Detention regimes were a key concern, particularly in relation to detention conditions, leading to committee remarks that efforts must continue to alleviate overcrowding, as well improvements in food, sanitation and prison services. The committee recommended the application of international UN norms related to the treatment of prisoners to be applied to all detainees. The lack of independent monitoring of detention facilities, coupled with reports of secret detention locations was also highlighted, leading to recommendations for strengthening the independence of the bureau of investigation and prosecution.

·         Concerns regarding the national Human rights Commission (NHRC) led to recommendations that the commission should conform to the Paris principles and establish an effective individual complaints mechanism.

·         Vulnerable groups were also highlighted as areas of concern, particularly in relation to violence against women, and the treatment of migrant workers and human trafficking. Several recommendations were offered included ensuring effective legal protection and relevant legal provisions to criminalizing all forms of violence against them.

·         The soaring use of the death penalty, prompted recommendations for a moratorium, ratification of the ICCPR and transparent data on those executed including the nature of their crimes.

ESOHR welcome the concluding remarks of the UN committee against Torture and calls upon them to continually monitor the application of their concluding remarks by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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