Saudi Arabia Wins Seat on UN Human Rights Council

Saudi Arabia won a seat on the Human Rights Council, the UN’s highest rights watchdog body, despite objections from independent human rights organizations. The Kingdom was one of 14 new members elected on Tuesday to the 47-seat Geneva-based council.

Six human rights groups sent a letter to the Saudi King on Friday urging him to improve the country’s record ahead of election by releasing all imprisoned human rights and civil society activists.

“Saudi Arabia should make good on its professed commitment to human rights and stop persecuting citizens who call on the authorities to respect these rights,” said Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Saudi Arabia has a long way to go to improve its human rights record, but ending the crackdown on independent activists would be a start.”

The New York-based group said that Saudi Arabia and four other nations that won seats — Russia, China, Vietnam and Algeria — have denied UN investigators visits to check alleged abuses. Members of HRC will serve for three years and will not be eligible for immediate reelection after two consecutive terms.

In an editorial published Sunday, the Washington Post said countries that abuse human rights should be kept off the Council. “Saudi Arabia wants to be on the council, even though it has routinely thrown people into prison without charge or trial, and refuses to allow women to drive on their own,” the newspaper said.

Saudi win comes less than 3 weeks after the country rejected a seat on the UN Security Council citing its failure to resolve the crisis in Syria and other international conflicts.

Photo courtesy of UN Photo Geneva via Flickr

Saudi Activists Denied License to Found Human Rights Center

A Saudi court in the eastern city of Dammam dismissed a lawsuit by a group of activists against the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) for denying them a license to establish a human rights organization. A lawyer representing the founders of Qatif-based Adala Center for Human Rights received the verdict papers last month, and a member of the center told Riyadh Bureau today that they have filed an appeal of the verdict.

The three judges presiding over the case said in their ruling that they found MOSA’s refusal to register Adala as a licensed organization compatible with laws and regulations. MOSA has argued that their decision to deny a license to Adala was on the basis that they can only license charities, and that the activities of Adala are not covered by the Ministry’s definition of what is a charity.

The fact that Adala’s principles and goals are based on international laws and accords like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also of concern to the judges who said these “man-made laws” do not comply with Islamic Sharia.

“Using these man-made laws without reservations as it is evident in the Center’s charter violates Article 7 of the Basic Law of Governance,” the judges said. The Basic Law of Governance serves as a proto-constitution in Saudi Arabia where the uncodified tenets of Islamic Sharia remain the supreme law and judges, most of them trained as clerics, are granted excessive power to issue rulings according to their own interpretation of the law.

The kingdom does not currently have a law to license and regulate civil society organizations. The Shoura Council, a consultative body whose members are appointed by the King, discussed in 2006 a draft law for civil society organizations. The Council approved the draft law on January 6, 2008 and the proposal was sent to the Cabinet to get the final approval before implementation.

However, the Cabinet is yet to approve the draft law. The proposal remains in the drawers of the Cabinet despite repeated pleas from activists and members of the Shoura Council over the past five years to give it the green light.

Zaid al-Hussain, vice president of the government-run Human Rights Commission, told the daily al-Madina on Wednesday that he expects the new civil society law to be issued soon. The same thing has been said last September by former member of the Shoura Council Abdulrahman al-Enad, but there are still no signs that the release of this law is imminent.

The lack of a legal framework means that many activists and youth groups involved with civil society activities are operating in a grey zone. Without proper licensing, they cannot raise money, organize events or have a space of their own to hold meetings.

Founders of the Adala Center for Human Rights were hoping that winning their case against the Ministry of Social Affairs, which remained in courts for over 18 months, could set a legal precedent and encourage others to follow suit. According to its website, the center was established in December 10, 2011 by 21 founding members, including three women. Since then, Adala has wroked to document and report on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, especially in the Eastern Province that has witnessed frequent protests since March 2011.

Adala is one of several local human rights groups operating in the country without proper licensing. The National Society for Human Rights, established in 2004 with support from late King Fahad, is the only human rights group operating legally in the Saudi Arabia.

‘Human Rights Horror Show’

David Mizner:

At a recent energy conference, Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, had reassuring words for attendees. “If Saudi Arabia were to become unhinged,” he said, “the consequences are almost impossible to imagine—politically, economically, at every level. But I don’t see it happening.”

This might not be a wise bet. While the regime won’t fall any time soon, it probably won’t be able to preside for many years over a population that’s increasingly young, wired, and unemployed. And if there’s one thing we should’ve learned from ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, it’s that the stability created by repression is illusory.

Amnesty 2013 Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International released their annual report for 2013. As expected, the section on Saudi Arabia is very grim. The summary reads:

The authorities severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly and clamped down on dissent. Government critics and political activists were detained without trial or sentenced after grossly unfair trials. Women were discriminated against in law and practice and inadequately protected against domestic and other violence. Migrant workers were exploited and abused. Sentences of flogging were imposed and carried out. Hundreds of people were on death row at the end of the year; at least 79 people were executed.

The report also notes that “Amnesty International continued to be effectively barred from visiting Saudi Arabia to conduct human rights research.”

Amnesty Urges Saudi to End Repressive Practices

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says 2013 promises to be a dark year for freedom of expression and of association in Saudi Arabia:

Not content with imprisoning dozens of prominent human rights activists in 2012, the Saudi Arabian authorities have expanded the scope of their repression of peaceful activists by imposing more travel bans for unspecified reasons and durations, by disbanding at least one civil society organization as well as removing its social media accounts, and taking steps towards banning social media applications if these cannot be fully monitored and controlled.

As the Saudi Arabian authorities impose these additional restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, they continue to violate their international human right obligations as well as, in some instances, national law.

New Saudi Rights Group Calls for Abolishing Death Penalty

Osama Khalid for Global Voices:

Following last month’s court ruling to dissolve the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and to confiscate its (nonexistent) properties, a group of activists yesterday announced a new independent association called the Union for Human Rights. Among its stated goals, the association is seeking an end to deterrent executions, an issue rarely raised in the kingdom.

Sweeping Injustices

From the chapter on Saudi Arabia in Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2013:

Saudi Arabia in 2012 stepped up arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents, and responded with force to demonstrations by citizens. Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, thousands of people have received unfair trials or been subject to arbitrary detention. The year has seen trials against half-a-dozen human rights defenders and several others for their peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.

Saudi Human Rights Group Sues Government Over License

On November 25, the Court of Grievances will issue its verdict in the case of Adalah Center for Human Rights against the Ministry of Social Affairs. Adalah Center has sued the ministry after it was denied a license to operate legally, according to al-Yaum newspaper.

Saudi Arabia is yet to approve a proposed law to license and regulate civil society organizations, but if the Qatif-based Adalah Center won the case it could set a legal precedent and encourage other unlicensed organizations to do the same.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has refused to grant a license to the Center on the basis that they can only license charities and that the activities of Adalah Center is not covered by their definition of what is a charity. They also said that the Human Rights Commission is the government body responsible for issuing licenses to human rights organizations.

The lawyer for Adalah Center, Taha al-Hejji, told the newspaper that the Center started under the name “Rights Activists Network” in 2009. The official site of Adalah Center mentions December 10, 2011 as the date of founding. The lawyer said there are 21 founding members, including three women.

As they wait for the verdict in this legal battle, the Center has been actively working to document and report on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, especially in the Eastern Province that has witnessed frequent protests over the past 18 months. They are one of several local human rights groups operating in the country without proper licensing.

The National Society for Human Rights is the only human rights group operating legally in the country. It was founded with government approval in 2004. NSHR is technically an NGO but they actually receive financial support from the government.

On Unlicensed Saudi Rights Groups

Saudi Arabia has two officially licensed human rights organizations. One of them is the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC). The other is the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), which is an NGO in theory but still receives support from the government, i.e. it is not independent.

Many activists have applied to establish human rights organizations in recent years, but the government has not granted any licenses to any of those activists. Some of them decided that waiting while the government showed no sign that their approval is forthcoming was not an option, so they began operating within a grey legal area.

Lawyer activist Walid Abualkhair decided to take a different path. Abualkhair decided to register his organization, Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), first in Canada then seek permission to operate in Saudi Arabia. Today, he posted three tweets about where are they with that process:


After registering our rights organization in Canada, we wrote to the King a request to open an office and operate in Saudi Arabia

Our request was secretly transferred from the royal court to the security affairs at the interior ministry three months ago, and it has been there since then

As the president of the organization and the one who wrote the request on behalf of myself and my colleagues, I have asked what was the King’s instructions regarding the request. I was told it is a secret file and that it is under processing at the interior ministry.

With the civil society law still held by the Cabinet and waiting for their approval, these organizations and their applications for license to work are in limbo. The lack of a clear legal framework means the government can not only shut them down any time they want, but also take them to court.