Norwegian FM discusses human rights on Saudi visit




Stoere, who arrived in Riyadh on Sunday, said he had a "useful and respectful exchange of views with the Human Rights Commission," a governmental body set up in September 2005.

The Saudi government "allowed Human Rights Watch to visit Saudi Arabia and observe for themselves," Stoere told reporters during a joint news conference with Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"That, I think, is a very positive sign," he said, adding that he urged the commission to show "the same courage" and invite London-based Amnesty International to come.

Saudi Arabia is often accused by international watchdogs of violating human rights, particularly those of political dissidents and expatriate workers. Riyadh denies the charges.

A delegation from New York-based Human Rights Watch visited Saudi Arabia in late 2006, following a similar mission in 2003.

"I have invited the (Saudi) commission to visit Norway to engage with Norwegian competent groups and by that we (would be) able to raise issues where we may have different views," Stoere said.

Saudi Arabia has another human rights body considered independent from the government. The National Society for Human Rights was the first rights watchdog sanctioned by authorities in March 2004.

The Norwegian minister hailed a proposal by Saudi King Abdullah for inter-faith talks between Muslims, Christians and Jews, a first for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

"I think this is an important initiative to emphasise that religion can be a source of peace" that should not be left to those who try to portray it as "a source of violence and war," Stoere said.



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