Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi Arabia is moving toward amending some laws and regulations that are not compatible with the international treaties on human rights. This takes place following the viewpoints of representatives of eight government and jurist sides, which have been working within the framework of a committee formed in accordance with the order of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Bin-Abdulaziz, agreeing with some of the conclusions of a study prepared by the National Society for Human Rights in this context.
The agenda reached by the government committee, which worked under the umbrella of the Experts Commission (the legislative arm) of the Saudi Council of Ministers, and a copy of which was seen by Asharq Al-Awsat, recommends the amendment of a collection of articles in the state laws, the activation of some laws previously issued by higher authorities, and the issuing of some new laws.
It is worth noting that the committee – which consists of the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Labor, and Social Affairs, in addition to representatives of the government’s Human Rights Commission, and the National Society for Human Rights – has expressed huge support to women. Many of the conclusions reached by the committee move in favor of abolishing measures that discriminate between men and women. The governmental committee recommends that the Saudi Ministry of Interior looks into the amendment of Articles 5 and 8, and Paragraph 1 of Article 9 of the Statute of Travel Documents. These articles consider “underage children and women are of the same legal status, as each needs a guardian.” This contradicts the ruling of Article 15 of the agreement to abolish all forms of discrimination against women.
The viewpoint of the governmental committee is congruent with that of the National Society for Human Rights on the need to amend Article 67 of the Civil Status Law, which restricts the right of a woman to obtain an identity card unless her guardian agrees, which is contrary to the rulings of the international treaties.
The original article specifies, “Any male Saudi citizen on reaching the age of 16 years has to go to any of the civil status departments to obtain a personal identity card. Obtaining the identity cards is optional for any woman whose age is between 10 and 15 years after she obtains the agreement of her guardian.” The members of the committee consider that it is appropriate to look into amending Article 67 so that its text would clearly indicate that the right of a woman to obtain a national identity card is not subject to the approval of her guardian. At the same time the representative of the Ministry of Interior participating in these meetings points out that what is currently taking place is that the approval of the woman’s guardian is not considered a condition to obtain the identity card.
The governmental committee operating under the Commission of Experts recommends that it is important to draw up controls for the implementation of the ministerial decree giving the finance minister the right to approve a loan to a woman from the Real Estate Development Fund if it is shown that the circumstances of the woman make her actually responsible for her family.
The study by the National Society for Human Rights points out that Article 13 of the Law of the Real Estate Development Fund contradicts this, as it leads to discrimination between men and women, and it contradicts the international treaties. The conferees consider it suitable “to draw up controls to implement the contents of the decree related to granting loans to women. The controls should explain the cases that are included in this decree by determining the necessary criteria and conditions to be satisfied by the woman to prove her responsibility for her family, and hence her entitlement to get a loan.”
While the National Society for Human Rights records an objection to the Civil Retirement Law, and says that it includes discrimination in the entitlement to a retirement pension for the heirs of the Saudi woman married to a foreigner, the committee stresses that there is nothing that legally prevents the foreign husband and his children from being entitled to the pension of his Saudi wife.
In expressing this opinion, the committee relies on Article 25 of the Civil Retirement Law, which stipulates: “Those entitled to inherit the pensioner are: the husband or wife, the mother or father, the son or daughter, the son or daughter of the son who died during the life of the pensioner, the brother, the sister, the grandfather, and the grandmother.” In the same context, the committee adds: “Article 38 defines the situations that prevent the payment to the pensioner or the one entitled to a share of the pension; these situations include assuming a nationality other than Saudi.” The committee says that this applies only to the pensioner or anyone entitled to a share of the pension if he was Saudi, and then adopted another nationality.
The study by the National Society for Human Rights stresses that Article 67 of the Civil Status Law leads to discrimination between male and female, and contradicts the contents of the children’s rights treaties, especially Paragraph 1 of Article 8, which stipulates: “A child has the right to preserve his identity, including nationality, name, and family links in the way allowed by law without prejudice to Shariaa.”
However, the conferees point out that there is no discrimination or advantages in this article to contradict the rulings of the agreement. They consider that the agreement of the guardian is necessary for the child, either male or female to have the identity card.
In its study, the National Society for Human Rights considers that it is important to amend the draft law for private societies and institutions in a way that will allow lowering the age of their members and founders so that it becomes possible to activate one of the articles of the Convention on the Right of the Child, which specifies: “The signatory countries recognize the right of the child to form societies, and to peaceful gathering.”
However, the governmental committee says in its final report, “The law of private societies and institutions, which currently is under study by the Commission of Experts, does not put a specific age as a condition for membership of the societies and it restricts the condition of full majority to the founding members only.” The committee reveals that there is a proposal under study to establish a Shura Council for the children of the Kingdom; it says: “This will fulfill some aspects included in this article.”
Within the context of the committee’s comment on the reference in the human right society’s study to the need for the preventative measures to include effective procedures to draw up social programs, and to the need to legally specify the deeds that constitute crimes against children, it explains: “There is a draft law under study by the Commission of Experts that is related to the protection of children. The draft law includes a collection of rulings related to the rights of children, and specifies some of the deeds whose commitment constitutes a violation of these rights. The draft law derives the totality of its rulings from the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
The National Society for Human Rights calls for the establishment of a comprehensive penal law for the minors, whether with regard to punishment or procedures, in the light of the existence of a text in the Convention on Rights of the Child stipulating that “death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of release cannot be imposed as punishment for crimes committed by individuals who are less the 18-years old.”
The governmental committee supports the direction of the National Society for Human rights; it considers that the issue of a special law for minors “will be a positive addition to what the Kingdom is undertaking in this field.” The committee points out that the statute of the social observation homes, which was issued 34 years ago, includes in its Articles 1 and 10 rulings related to the penal procedures against minors in a way that is compatible with their situation.
The committee points out that there is a draft law for the protection of children that is currently under study by the Commission of Experts, and it will include rulings related to these rights.
For considerations related to Paragraph 1 of Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifies, “The signatory countries recognize the right of the child to rest, have a free time, practice games and entertainment activities suitable for his age, and participate freely in cultural life and arts,” the human rights’ study considers that restricting the practice of entertainment activities and free game-playing to the male children, and not female ones contradicts the article.
However, the representatives of the governmental committee and of the Commission of Experts stress, “Originally, there is nothing that legally restricts the practice of entertainment activities and game-playing to the male children.” They add, “However, if what is meant is to practice the activities and game-playing through the approved centers and clubs, approval has been issued previously for the existence of sports and cultural centers or clubs for the Saudi women and girls in order to develop their sports and cultural talents according to Shariaa and social controls. These clubs and centers are supervised by the general presidency of youth care, and all those working in them are women. It has to be emphasized that these activities have to be conducted according to Shariaa and security controls, and in a way that is compatible with the special character of the Saudi woman and the customs and conventions of the Saudi society.”
The study prepared by the National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, which has been discussed by the Commission of Experts, says that there is no legal text or statute in any treaty for the extradition of criminals to which the Kingdom is a party that “considers the crimes of torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or humiliating punishments specified in Article 4 of the UN Convention Against Torture as extraditable crimes like the terrorism or organized crimes.”
However, the governmental committee considers Article 8 of the same convention, which considers the referred to crimes as “crimes whose culprits are extraditable on the basis of any extradition treaty between the signatory countries to the convention, and the signatory countries pledge to include these crimes in the crimes whose culprits are extraditable in every treaty they sign with each other,” as sufficient, and that there is no need to add any text.
While the study by the National Society for Human Rights refers to the fact that there are no explicit texts in Saudi laws that criminalize torture and punish it, the committee stresses that torture is a crime according to the rulings of Islamic Shariaa, in addition to the fact that there are explicit legal texts that criminalize torture, especially in the rulings included in a royal decree that was issued more than 51 years ago. The decree stipulated “punishments up to 10 years imprisonment to every official who is found guilty of mistreatment or coercion through his post, such as torture and cruelty; this includes torture. The decree also stipulates the right of the victim to suitable compensation.” The conferees point out that the draft law of combating embezzlement of public funds and misuse of authority, which currently is under study by the Commission of Experts, includes rulings that explicitly stipulate that any official who uses harm or torture in the performance of his duties should be punished.
The governmental committee opposes the proposal by the National Society for Human Rights to add an article to the Labor and workers Law stipulating, “Without prejudice to Article 149, it is prohibited to discriminate between men and women in work, wages, or rights.” The committee – according to its own expression – considers, “The law in its rulings does not discriminate between the rights of men and of women, including the wages. On the contrary, the law gives women some positive rights that take into consideration their situation, and give them some advantages linked to their special circumstances, such as pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding.”
With regard to the proposal by the National Society for Human Rights to issue a special electoral law that stipulates the conditions of candidacy and election in a way that does not discriminate between men and women, the governmental committee considers, “The electoral experiment is still new in the Kingdom, whether it is in the municipal councils, the sports syndicates, or others. It is inappropriate at this stage to issue a special electoral law, and rules issued by the authorities concerned should be sufficient for this process.”
While the study considers that there is an international stipulation that dictates a specific commitment by the state represented by the need to incorporate the principle of equal rights to men and women in its legal system, the governmental committee stresses that the origin of the rulings in the Kingdom’s laws is that they apply to both sexes unless it is stipulated otherwise, or unless the rulings in the text apply naturally to one of the sexes.
The National Society for Human Rights stresses the need to direct all the different judicial authorities to facilitate the means of litigation for women in order to limit what the society calls “the judicial practices that contradict the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”
Faced with this, the representatives of the Commission of Experts stress, “There is an independent study currently being examined by the commission, with the participation of the authorities concerned, of the obstacles faced by women in accessing the judicial system to file a case, and deal with it.”
In its assessment of the study prepared by the National Society for Human Rights, the governmental committee formed at the order of Saudi Crown Prince last year, and which ended its work this year, concludes, “the study as a whole is good. It includes a comprehensive review of the rulings of the human rights agreements signed by the Kingdom, coupled with the rulings of the Saudi laws and the extent of their compatibility with the rulings of these treaties.”
The members of the governmental committee conclude, “The Saudi laws as a whole are compatible with the principal human rights treaties. The study includes proposals to introduce special and explicit stipulations of some rights.” At the end of their meeting, the members consider that it is appropriate that the authorities concerned and some committees should utilize this study when they review their laws or statutes, bearing in mind that the study is not restricted to the laws, but it also discusses rulings that are included in statutes and directives, in addition to some practical applications. The governmental committee recommends submitting a copy of this study, and the minutes of its conclusions to the Human Rights Commission in order to do what it considers appropriate toward the proposals of the study, and the evidence on them. This is because Paragraph 2 of Article 5 of the Statute of the Human Rights Commission stipulates, “the council of the commission has the right to express an opinion on the draft laws concerning human rights, to review the existing laws, and to propose amending them according to the legal procedures.”