FIDH and HRSF Recommendations to the Government of Saudi Arabia


1. Arbitrary Detention of Human Rights Defenders

Since 2004, several human rights defenders, who called themselves the "Saudi Reformers", have been banned from travelling abroad and expressing their views in the media. Many of them are active on democratic reforms in the country. In 2005, Mr. Al-Hamad (university lecturer), Mr Al-Faleh (university lecturer and head of Political Science Department) and Mr. Al-Domainy (writer) were sentenced to nine, seven and six years of imprisonment after publicly calling for a national constitution. The men were later released with a royal pardon. More recently, on 19 May 2008, Mr. Al-Faleh was arrested again and only released on 10 January 2009, that is after 235 days without official charge against him. It is alleged however that his confinement is directly connected with his criticism of the imprisonment conditions of Mr. Al-Hamad, who in turn was sentenced to six months imprisonment last summer after having supported a demonstration for women’s rights, one of the first in its kind women who were protesting the imprisonment of their husbands without trial.

FIDH and HRFS urge the Saudi authorities to :
Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular article 1, recognizing the right of each individual or group to promote and strive for the protection and realization of all human rights, and article 12.2, ensuring that the State shall take all measures to protect these activities against violence, threats, retaliation, pressure and arbitrary detentions.
Remove the obstacles to freedoms of expression and movement against human rights defenders and lift all travel bans.
Accept the request for a visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of opinion and Expression, and to issue an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
Protect the right to freedom of association to allow NGOs to operate legally in Saudi Arabia, including by extending a license to the Human Rights First Society which applied for such authorisation in November 2002.

2.Migrant Workers

In Saudi Arabia, documented migrant workers represent more than 50 %of the workforce (about 6 million persons). There is no available data on the large number of undocumented workers. For many of these migrants, working in Saudi Arabia represents a chance to escape from poverty and offer a better future for their relatives back home. As in other Gulf countries, foreign workers are employed under a sponsorship (kafala) system according to which workers’ employment visas are linked to individual employers. This system makes migrant workers particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous employers. Some workers are thus compelled to do other jobs than the one for which they were hired, to accept less money than originally agreed. Many migrant workers find themselves trapped : the sponsorship system requires that workers obtain their employer’s permission to leave the country and many have their passports confiscated. Undocumented migrants are particularly at risk, the fear of arrest and deportation increasing their vulnerability and exploitation.

FIDH and HRSF therefore urges the Saudi authorities to :

Ratify the United Nations Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their families.
Reform or abolish the system of sponsorship
Introduce mandatory programmes for employers on their rights and obligations

Adopt the proposed annex to the labour law (drafted in 2005) to extend protection to domestic workers
Ensure regular inspections of recruitment agencies and workplaces.
Implement the recommendation issued by the CEDAW Committee to :
- provide full details of the situation of domestic workers ;
to grant in law and practice female domestic migrant workers, including their children
the rights provided for in the Convention1.
Implement the CRC recommendation to strengthen the system for collecting data as a basis to assess progress achieved in the realization of children’s rights, including children of non-Saudi migrant workers2.
To implement the CERD recommendation to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions who has requested information on several cases of migrant workers who have not received legal assistance and have been sentenced to death3.
To accept the requests for visit of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

3.Women’s rights

Due to the male guardianship practice, women still need to obtain permission to work, travel, study, marry and have access to health care, or any public service. Violence against women and children is rampant. Discrimination against women also includes lack of access to inheritance and major difficulties in obtaining custody of children.
FIDH and HRSF therefore recommends that the government of Saudi Arabia
Ends the strict system of male guardianship and give full legal identity to Saudi women.
Incorporates into the domestic legislation the principle of equality between men and women.
Removes all reservations to CEDAW : the general reservation of CEDAW which violates the object and purpose of the Convention, and the reservation on article 9.2 with regard the nationality of children.4
Implements the CEDAW recommendation to begin a comprehensive strategy to eliminate negative cultural practices and stereotypes harmful to women, in conformity with articles 2 (f) and 5 (a) of CEDAW 5.
Implements CEDAW recommendation to address violence against women and children, and implement educational and legislative measures to combat all forms of violence against women6.
Implements CEDAW recommendation to prescribe a minimum age of marriage of 18 years for both women and men and to introduce legislative reforms to provide women with equal rights in marriage, divorce, the custody of children and inheritance7.
Ratifies the Optional Protocol to CEDAW

4.Minorities and freedom of religion

Shi’is make up a minority of about 15% in Saudi Arabia, the rest of the population being affiliated to Sunni Islam. Shi’is are treated as second-class citizens by the Sunni (Wahhabi) authorities, enjoy less freedoms than Sunnis and are discriminated against in most of their civil and political rights. For instance, no key position – political, administrative, business, or religious – is occupied by a Shi’i. Some categories of jobs8 are forbidden for Shi’is. Poverty levels among Shi’is are notably higher than among the rest of the population.

FIDH and HRSF therefore calls upon the Saudi authorities

To make a direct end to all discrimination against the Shi’i population and to stop all arrests and detentions of Shi’is on the sole base of their faith.
To respond to the urgent appeals of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief and to comply with paragraphs 9 and 10 of General Comment 22 of the Human Rights Committee9.
To stop interfering in the religious sermons and allow shia to build their Mosques and Hussainias freely.
To accept the request for an invitation of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or belief.

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