Tuesday, 14 January, 2020

UN report on human rights situation in Saudi Arabia (Part 2)

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism on his visit to Saudi Arabia

II. Terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia

6. The Special Rapporteur was informed by the Government that during the past three decades, Saudi Arabia had suffered a large number of terrorist attacks by Al-Qaida — and lately by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and other groups — against military and civilian targets. According to official records, altogether 1,075 terrorist plots have been identified in the country since 1987. The Special Rapporteur was informed that 844 of these had been effective, many with devastating consequences, and that 231 plots had been disrupted. A total of 3,178 individuals had been killed or injured as victims of terrorism over this period. The Special Rapporteur was not in a position to verify those figures. Since 2011, the Government has also been facing protests in the key strategic Eastern Province, which is home for the country’s main oil production and in which the majority of the country’s Shia population lives. Inspired by the Arab Spring, and facing ongoing repression, the Shia minority has started calling for reform.

III. Elements of the legal framework

A. International framework

7. Saudi Arabia is a party to some of the main international human rights conventions, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as some optional protocols.1 It is not party to either the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is bound, however, by the relevant rules of international human rights law, which include the absolute prohibition of torture, the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of the right to life and of the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, the fundamental principles of fair trial and due process, including the presumption of innocence and the principle of non-discrimination. These rights form part of customary international law. They are proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are norms of jus cogens (peremptory norms of international law) from which no derogations are permissible.

8. Both international humanitarian law2 and international human rights law apply to the recent extraterritorial operations of Saudi Arabia in the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. International humanitarian law does not replace international human rights law in situations of armed conflict. Both regimes remain in force and are complementary.3

B. National framework

9. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic State. It is a theocracy, whereby all source of authority derives from God. Its judicial system is based on Islamic law (sharia) for both criminal and civil cases. At the top of the legal system is the King, who acts as the final court of appeal and as a source of pardon. The court system consists of three divisions. The sharia courts hear most cases, in three jurisdictions: the Court of First Instance, the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Judicial Council. In addition to the regular sharia courts, the Board of Grievances hears cases that involve the Government. The court system is supplemented by various quasi-judicial committees within government ministries that address specific disputes, such as labour issues. In April 2005, a reorganization of the judicial system began, which was approved by royal order on 1 October 2007. Changes included the establishment of a new Supreme Court and special commercial, labour and administrative courts.

10. The Basic Law of Governance provides that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic State. Its religion is Islam. Its constitution is God’s Almighty Book, the Holy Qur’an, and the Sunna of the Prophet”.4 Accordingly, the sharia provides the basis of governance and characterizes the State as well as its relationship with its citizens. While the Kingdom has ratified several core human rights treaties, is a current member of the Human Rights Council and has a substantial Human Rights Department within the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, it often puts forward the sharia, or divine law, its culture and the Islamic character of the State as impediments to full implementation of international human rights standards.

11. Government sources placed emphasis on the commitment of Saudi Arabia to international cooperation and mutual legal assistance in countering terrorism, and its efforts to stem the flow of terrorist financing. The extent to which such legislation is effectively implemented is open to question. The Special Rapporteur commends the efforts of the Government to alleviate the suffering of the victims of terrorism through comprehensive

programmes involving financial, psychological, educational and moral support, and career opportunities. Financial, housing and psychosocial support for the victims of terrorism and their families is an essential part of an integrated counter-terrorism strategy.5

12. The country’s first piece of counter-terrorism legislation, the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, was approved by the King in December 2013 and entered into force on 1 February 2014.6 Regulations of the Ministry of the Interior issued on 7 March 2022 extended the counter-terrorism law’s definition of terrorism by adding to the list of acts classed as terrorism. On 31 October 2017, the Council of Ministers adopted the Law on Combating Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, which replaced the 2014 framework. This new law transfers extensive powers from the Ministry of the Interior (which was reorganized in 2017) to the newly established Public Prosecution and the Presidency of State Security,7 both of which report directly to the King.

13. The Specialized Criminal Court was created in the General Court in Riyadh, in 2008, to prosecute individuals accused of terrorism. Many were held in detention for alleged involvement in Al-Qaida attacks in the Kingdom, which began in 2003. By July 2007, about 9,000 suspects had been detained, according to official figures. Many went through the “de-radicalization” programme established in 2004.8

Follow this report in the next part…

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