Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Gulf countries, mentioned in the US report which accused 16 countries of human trafficking, have unanimously agreed that the information included in the human rights organizations’ reports is inconsistent. The Gulf countries stressed that they took many necessary measures in recent years to protect the rights of their citizens and those of the residents, and that their countries are always open to human rights and judicial organizations.
In Saudi Arabia, Deputy President of the National Human Rights Society Dr Mifleh al-Qahtani affirmed that some weeks ago, Saudis requested the US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights during her visit to Saudi Arabia to meet with the US Department of State official who is in charge of human trafficking issues.
Al-Qahtani told Asharq Al-Awsat that the drafters of the report ignored the regulations and the rules that Saudi Arabia follows in dealing with foreign labor, adding that these rules have their roots in religion and Shariaa which prohibits human trafficking and human exploitation whatever.
Al-Qahtani said that what the US report said about his country regarding the physical and sexual exploitation does not exist, he added: “If this is true, the authorities are doing their best to prevent this from occurring”. He indicated that some laws, which Saudi Arabia passed, ban children’s from working in camel races. Addressing the writers of the report, he said: “It seems that these people lack enough experience in terms of the regulations in effect in the country.” He added that Saudi Arabia has worked during recent years to lay down laws to improve the conditions for foreign workers particularly the law which stipulates the cancellation of the term sponsorship.
He added: “These reports started to lose their credibility and they are employed for political purposes, so they provide very little help and raise the human rights activists’ suspicions.”
For his part the Saudi Shura Council member Muhammad Al Zulfah told AFP that: “The Shura Council approved during the last three years many international agreements that ban human trafficking.” He added that there was some failure in the past but the situation now is different.
Saudi Arabia works hard to improve all conditions to protect the foreign workers in the country including labor and laborers legislation which was approved on 27 Sep 2005 by the Saudi cabinet.
The main features of the new regulation, which includes 16 chapters and 245 articles, are as follows; it covers some categories which were not covered before, and it contains a special chapter on housemaids and anyone in their situation; the new regulation gave new privileges to workers with regard to annual leave which was 15 days and has now been raised to 21 days annually, and it reaches 30 days for workers who have spent five years at work.
The new regulation organizes work hours and rest breaks during the work so the employee should not work more than five consecutive hours without rest breaks, performing prayer, and having lunch which should take 30 minutes every time. However, the employee should not stay at the workplace more than 11 hours a day.
The system assigned an entire chapter for juvenile. It banned juveniles from working in dangerous jobs or in hazardous industries or in jobs that may endanger their health, well-being, or morals. Moreover, the regulation prohibited the employment of any person below 15 years old, entering workplaces, or employing juveniles at night for more than 12 consecutive hours except in cases that are determined by the minister’s decision.
The Kuwaiti minister of Labor and Social Affairs stressed the importance of fostering cooperation and consultation among Arab countries and among Gulf countries in terms of labor policies. He said: “Kuwait extended an invitation to the concerned ministers to participate in a seminar focusing at labor which Kuwait will organize under the title “The rights and duties of labor hosting and exporting countries.”
Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker Jasim Al-Kharafi commented on the US report by saying: “I remind our friends in the United States of the cause of the detained individuals in the US base in Guantanamo” adding that those whose houses are made from glass should not throw people with stones.
According to AFP, the secretary of the human rights parliamentary committee Deputy Walid al-Tabtaba’i admitted some violations with regard to housemaids, but said: “The United States is the last one to talk about human rights.”
On the people’s level, Ali al-Baghli, member of the Kuwaiti Association for Human Rights described the report as objective. He, however, said that “it contains some exaggerations; nevertheless we do not deny that there are issues but on individual level and not regularly.”
In Bahrain, director of the Security Information Department at the Ministry of Interior, Major Muhammad Bin Dinah that said that the US accusation is unacceptable and stressed Bahrain’s request for proof or a list of names that the US Department of State relied on in its report. He told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that: “We were surprised at the report and at the allegations that accuse Bahrain of failing to ban human trafficking, although Bahrain is an open country to all human rights and law organizations. He stressed that the Bahraini ministry of interior did not receive any complaint from any foreign embassy regarding the abovementioned allegations. He maintained: “How come these complaints about these violations were not submitted to us?” He requested the provision of any complaints, names, or lists of names used in the report to the Bahrain’s Interior Ministry. He said: “We want to maintain our record clean of any violations, and we need such information to be submitted, we are confident that foreign embassies are the first who will let us know in case these violations take place in order for us to investigate them.”
He maintained that: “Bahrain is a host country for workers and we did not notice any flagrant violation except individual cases that happen everywhere.” According to Bin Dinah, Bahrain arrests from time to time groups that commit crimes and deals with them according to the law and informs their relative embassies with the procedures taken toward them as well as informing the embassies of those against whom the crimes were committed. Last May the Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the issue of a law fighting human trafficking is underway, indicating that the law is still being formulated and will be approved by the government and the parliament. However, the Bahraini Government took a number of steps to fight human trafficking including the formation of a work team composed from employees from the ministries of interior, labor, social development and justice, Public Prosecutor, and Legal Affairs Department.
Bahraini lawyers said that the trade in free [preceding word in English] visa which means the sale of work visas harms Bahrain’s reputation and creates confusions in this regard. Bahraini human rights societies are calling for laws related to housemaids that meet the international legislation. They are also calling for a tighter the control on hotel and tourist places to combat the prostitution trade.
The Bahraini Ministry of Labor which is responsible for immigrant laborers’ issues in Bahrain took a number of steps to eradicate trafficking in humans including keeping an eye on recruitment companies and conducting periodic and continuous inspections. The ministry has put forward a mechanism to receive the victims’ complaints, investigate them, and try to settle them in the ministry or refer them to the judicial authorities to pursue the offenders in a court of law.
In Qatar, general secretary of government-backed Qatari Human Rights Organization Ali Bin Samikh al-Mari said that the US report “is not fair at all, because it ignored many positive legislative and executive developments in Qatar concerning either laborers’ rights or human rights in general.” He mentioned in particular the establishment of the national bureau for combating human trafficking and the efforts made to pass a law in this regard. Al-Mari maintained that Qatar is achieving greater progress in this area compared to the rest of neighboring countries and that Qatar should not be classified the same way as others.
In Oman Sultanate, the president of the General Union of the workers Abdulaziz Bin Abbas al-Bahrani said that: “Human trafficking and forced labor do not exist in Oman, these issues do not exist at all. However, the liberties, the right to demonstrate, to strike and the freedom of worship are guaranteed to all by Omani laws.”
An annual report issued by the US Department of State the day before yesterday accused Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Guinea, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman Sultanate, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela of being the worst countries in combating human trafficking. The report included three tiers; the first tier includes the countries who comply with the minimum of US standards. The second tier includes the countries that make intensive efforts to comply with these standards while the third tier includes the countries that neglect to comply with the minimum of the US standards to fight human trafficking or to make tangible efforts to improve their records.