HRW discusses upcoming reports with Saudi officials



The HRW has been invited to the Kingdom by the Saudi government to discuss with officials four reports that the body has prepared on the Kingdom’s justice system, domestic workers, women and children, said Zuhair Al-Harithy, spokesman for the HRC.

“We had initially hoped for a one-month visit to see prisons and attend trials, but due to complications in time schedules, it is now one week,” said Christoph Wilcke, a HRW researcher on Saudi Arabia.

The HRW meetings with local officials, which began last Saturday and ends tomorrow, are taking place at the HRC’s offices in Riyadh. Among officials that the team has so far met are representatives from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Justice.

Discussions with Saudi officials mainly revolve around seeking answers to factual and legal questions regarding the four reports that have been prepared, said Wilcke, adding that the reports would be made public in a month.

Among specific topics that the HRW is expected to discuss are the delay of payment of salaries to domestic workers, torture of maids, guardianship laws that hinder women’s progress in business and traveling, flaws in the justice system and protection of the rights of children according to international agreements that the Kingdom is a signatory of.

Wilcke said that alleged violations committed by Saudi Arabia’s religious police, particularly in not handing over suspects to police, would also be brought up in their discussions with officials.

Zuhair Al-Harithy, spokesman for the HRC, said the Saudi government rights body welcomes visits by international human rights organizations. “It gives us a chance to discuss with them their reports and clarify mistakes, and at the same time learn from what is mentioned in them,” he said. He added that the HRC’s role in these meetings is to act as a mediator “to some extent.”

“(For example) we prefer that the HRW raises its questions about labor issues with representatives from the Labor Ministry who have first-hand knowledge of related issues,” he said.

Al-Harithy added that the HRW is now obliged to include the response of Saudi officials in forthcoming reports. “In this way, we hope the reports will be neutral. People reading the reports will be able to make up their own mind after knowing both sides of the story,” he said.

The delegation will meet officials from several ministries today and tomorrow, including representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education. Asked whether the HRW will meet officials from the Ministry of Interior, Al-Harithy said the HRC has contacted several bodies from the ministry to arrange meetings. “We contacted the Public Security, the Investigation and Prosecution Board and the Passport Department. Hopefully they will show up too,” he said.

The HRC spokesman said that ministry officials have been receptive to dialogue “and were open to constructive criticism.” He added that Saudi officials are now opening up and are different from 10-15 years ago when they were sensitive to questioning. He added that the visit might pave the way for a longer one-month visit in two to three months.

“We (the HRC) actually don’t differ much from what the HRW is calling for. We’re actually asking for the same rights. The only difference between us is the mechanism that we wish to adopt in seeing these rights established,” he said.

“The HRW asks for radical changes but we are more suited to step-by-step changes. For example, some incorrect traditions and customs regarding women need to end, but that will take time,” said Al-Harithy.

Today the HRW will meet Saudi officials to discuss rights of children, including how the judiciary tries minors and how they are sentenced to capital punishment.

The HRW five-member team also includes Farida Deif and Nisha Varia, who are from the HRW’s women’s rights department and a researcher on children’s rights.

HRC President Turki Al-Sudairi had earlier told Arab News that Amnesty International would be welcomed in Saudi Arabia and that arrangements will be made for their first visit here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *