Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- the National Society for Human Rights [NSHR] in Saudi Arabia plans to tackle a number of issues for its next stage of activities including minorities, poverty, unemployment, and the environment. This week it issued its first report since its establishment in March 2004 on the human rights situation in the kingdom.
The report proposed setting up a court, council, or higher commission that specializes in deciding on cases that involve violations of Shariaa laws, the Basic Law of Governance, and the international agreements, which Riyadh has joined, provided that its decision or verdict should have the force of law in removing the effects of those violations.
The NSHR called on the Shura Council, as well as the concerned agencies, to pay attention to meeting the shortage of national laws in areas pertaining to human rights, adapting the existing laws to the international agreements that have been endorsed by the Kingdom in this respect, and removing any texts, which these laws may contain and which prejudice or violate any human right.
The NSHR asked for enhancing the independence of the judiciary, protecting judges from the interference and influence [of other people], calling to account the judges who fail to perform their duty, and taking all measures that reassure the citizens and[foreign] residents about this.
It emphasized the importance of continuing to develop the judiciary system, speeding up its restructuring, increasing the number of judges to tackle the phenomenon of delay in deciding on cases, activating the implementation of judicial laws, and developing judicial inspection.
The 77-page human rights report emphasized the importance of enhancing the principle of accountability in all government agencies, especially those concerned with control, for the purpose of preventing abuse of power and influence. It called for activating the role of civil society organizations to participate in action and dialogue, respecting the freedom of expression, and defending rights. The NSHR concluded its first report by making recommendations, including preparing a university course to be called “Human Rights in the Kingdom.” Teaching this course will be mandatory for all university students in the Kingdom, while it will be taught in depth to the students of military and security colleges and the students of the Higher Institute of the Judiciary. The NSHR also proposed establishing an academy or institute for preparing lawyers and providing them with sound, professional training.
The report asked for issuing a national code for protection from family violence, incriminating it, and setting up mechanisms to protect victims of family violence amid the increase in the cases of violence that are registered in the Saudi street. The NSHR asked for examining the issue of al-Bidun [persons without citizenship], including Bedouins, members of the migrant tribes, and the residents who have been living in Mecca and Medina for a long time, without identity cards, and rectifying their situation in a manner that guarantees their rights and that prevents the negative effects of their illegal status. The NSHR, which entered its fourth year last March, emphasized the importance of appointing a coordinator for human rights in the government agencies to serve as the connecting link between the NSHR and the agency where he works.
It called for holding regular training courses on the issue of human rights for the state agencies that are concerned with this issue. The human rights report asserted the need to implement the strategy for addressing the issue of unemployment and protecting unemployed people through financial assistance or any other solutions that achieve the desired goals. The human rights report called for calling to account those who fail to perform their duty and the violators of laws. It also called for addressing the complaints and grievances of citizens who are affiliated to some sects in the country, including administrative and cultural complaints that have to do with their exercise of all their national rights. The human rights report asked for abolishing the sponsorship system, which it said has “caused a lot of violations of the rights of foreign workers,” and not only changing the expressions that are contained in it.
It recommended conducting a study to find alternatives to this system in order to avoid its flaws. The NSHR said that it has received more than 8570 complaints over the past three years. The cases of prisoners accounted for 18 percent of these complaints; cases of personal cases, 7 percent; cases of family violence, 8 percent; and administrative cases, 22 percent. On the other hand, labor cases accounted for 13 percent of these complaints; cases related to the judiciary, 6 percent; cases of civil affairs, 7 percent; and all other cases, 19 percent. The human rights report criticized the inadequate enforcement of the Penal Procedure Law by some judges, investigation and police departments, and the concerned investigation and administrative agencies. It said that this “causes big problems, affects the protection of rights that are stipulated in the law, and creates a sense that these rights are not respected.” It asked for expediting the issuance of the executive regulations of the Penal Procedure Law, saying that these regulations have not been issued so far. The NSHR criticized the Penal Procedure Law for not guaranteeing the right of the defendant to refrain from answering the questions he is asked during his interrogation or questioning. It said: “The law should have guaranteed this right for the defendant. It also should have required the presence of the[defendant’s] attorney.
“The NSHR said that it has “monitored forms of ill-treatment by some government employees in their dealings with the public, as well as the spread of the phenomenon of wastah[using personal influence or connections].” According to the report, this requires watching the conduct of employees by their superiors and calling to account any employee, whose failure to perform his duty or his violation is proven. The NSHR warned of the consequences of harming the unity of the people and citizenship, since it has monitored practices by some groups of society that include discriminating between the citizens of the state on the basis of region, tribe, sect, or origin. It said: “Such practices negatively affect the concept of affiliation to the homeland.
It also enhances fanaticism and affiliation to ethnic or regional groups, although the state is making great efforts to eliminate these habits, which contradict the values of Islam.” It asked for introducing a legal penalty against any person who does this. Concerning the staff of the Commission for Virtue Promotion and Vice Prevention, the NSHR criticized Article 12 of the law of the commission’s staff that stipulated” preventing the development of bad habits and customs” and “performing its duties very decisively and firmly.” It said that these two expressions were phrased broadly, without restriction, and this may cause excesses by some personnel of the commission, intentionally or unintentionally. The human rights report asked for rephrasing the powers of the staff of virtue promotion and vice prevention in an accurate language in order to prevent the abuse of authority vested in the commission by some of its personnel in a manner that entails the violation of human rights.
Moreover, the NSHR emphasized the importance of facilitating the right to litigation by making it easy to resort to the judiciary, whether from the financial aspect, by setting up more courts and distributing them all over the Kingdom; or from the procedural aspect, by not imposing procedures and difficult conditions for filing a lawsuit. The NSHR asked the judicial authority to examine any cases that are presented to it, including cases that are believed to violate the constants of Islamic Shariaa. On an issue that is related to the right to political participation, the NSHR said that the experience of municipal elections has come to confirm the “readiness “of citizens to exercise the right to vote on civil foundations, away from the tribal affiliations, which some people have stirred up. This affirms the need to expand the scope of this right to include all councils, led by the Shura Council, to give them a representational character.
On the issue of health, the NSHR asked the Health Ministry to address the flaws in medical performance, especially the small number of hospitals compared to the population, the low standard of health services provided by some of the state-run hospitals and health centers, the commercial character of health services at private hospitals and health centers, and the long period of waiting that exceeds several months to get appointments at hospitals. The human rights report criticized the unfair distribution of specialty hospitals over all regions of the Kingdom, the non-compliance with the rules on respecting the privacy of patients by some of the workers, the lack of important medical specialties at most health centers all the time, and the bad condition of medical buildings, instruments, and equipment, especially in remote regions. It also criticized the shortage of medications at some health centers, the small number of specialized centers for people with special needs, the weak control of private health centers, the presence of some workers who are not qualified to provide health services, and the frequent occurrence of medical mistakes at hospitals and health centers without accurate accountability.
The NSHR complained about some things that prejudice the right of Saudi women, such as not enabling an adult woman to act in some cases except through her guardian or attorney. This often harms her and deepens the view of her Shariaa and legal status as inferior, even if she wants to file a lawsuit in court. Also, a woman, whatever her age and level of education, is required to get the approval of her guardian in order to obtain an identity card or passport. Although the NSHR praised several positive aspects at Saudi prisons, it said that there are negative aspects in most of the prisons it visited, including the fact that prisons are overcrowded.
There are also complaints about the small number of visits to prisons by the Investigation and Public Prosecution Commission’s employees, who are assigned to inspect prisons. Sometimes, this leads to not expediting the procedures for releasing prisoners. The report stated that some prisoners complained about the illegal brutal treatment by some of the workers in prisons, such as beating, humiliation, solitary confinement, and reducing the size of meals for them. The NSHR stressed the need to intervene quickly to safeguard the basic rights of prisoners and avoid all the above negative aspects. It noted that the cases that warrant imprisonment are highly exaggerated. This requires setting limits to freedom-depriving penalties.