Saudi Human Rights Commission criticizes US report


The rights body said the report is too generalized, contains mistakes, and ignores the positive steps the Kingdom has taken to combat human trafficking.

The annual report, officially released on June 13, said “a country falls into Tier 3 if its government is not making a significant effort to combat human trafficking. A Tier 3 country can be sanctioned if it doesn’t take serious anti-slavery action in the next 90 days.”

The report focused mainly on human trafficking, but also specifically targeted the Kingdom’s sponsorship policy for guest workers — where sponsors hold considerable power over the workers’ ability to switch jobs, keep their passports and who often ignore Saudi laws pertaining to working hours, pay, vacation time and general treatment.

“Practices such as sponsorship laws create conditions that make guest workers especially vulnerable to trafficking in the region,” said the report.

The head of the Human Rights Commission said the report contained “some mistakes.”

HRC Chairman Turki Al-Sudairi said the report didn’t point out that Saudi law prohibits human trafficking.

“We have noticed some mistakes in the report,” he said.

“The report mentioned that combating human trafficking was not part of the (Saudi) law system, which is not true,” he said, mentioning Articles 70 and 71 of the Saudi Basic Law that declare that the trafficking of humans is illegal. Al-Sudairi said that the Kingdom is a signatory to international agreements against human trafficking, racism, discrimination against women, using minors as camel jockeys and slavery. He also cited protocols related to human trafficking and illegal migration.

Regarding articles to protect foreign laborers in the Kingdom and laws to ensure their rights from abuse, he said that the Labor Law strictly forbids selling and buying labor visas. And although the relationship between sponsor and worker is similar to a legal custody arrangement, Al-Sudairi said the government plays an important role in policing the guest worker system.

“There are regulations and conditions for issuing labor visas to any citizen or business owner,” he said.

“All applications for labor visas are carefully studied to determine the necessity for importing foreign labor. The Labor Law in Saudi Arabia protects foreign labor rights. It does not differentiate between the Saudi laborer and the foreigner regarding rights, duties,” he added.

Al-Sudairi outlined some of the aspects of the Labor Law that he said helps protect workers from abuses, including Article 75 (the procedures for filing grievances against employers); Article 87 (outlining end-of-service benefits, the severance paid for ending a work contract); Article 91 and 93 (requiring employers to pay their workers in accordance with the contract or, excepting that, the law); and Articles 128 and 137 (social benefits, such as paying for childbirth of wives of foreign workers); and Articles 142 and 144 (transportation provisions).

Saudi Arabia is grappling with unique problems related to migration, primarily because of its role as the caretaker of Islam’s two holiest sites. Unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia is compelled by Islamic law to provide all Muslims with temporary entry visas so they may perform Haj and Umrah. Many of these pilgrims enter the country and stay as illegal residents who then live and work under the radar of officials. The country’s oil wealth, coupled with its proximity to poorer countries in the region, makes it an attractive destination for workers and a target for human traffickers.

Al-Sudairi said the government of Saudi Arabia has issued two important regulations to combat human trafficking. In 2004 Saudi Arabia tightened penalties for human trafficking, bartering in illegal workers, trading in forged visas and exploiting children as beggars.

Al-Sudairi said the US State Department report had not tried to recognize the nature of humans entering the Kingdom. “The report did not differentiate between the different categories of foreigners entering the Kingdom,” he said, adding that they were divided into four categories.

Al-Sudairi said he would have liked to see the US State Department report address Saudi Arabia’s unique situation pertaining to the issues of the pilgrimage and the problem of overstayers. He pointed out that the Saudi government pays for the flights home for these illegal residents.

The Kingdom’s heavy dependence on foreign workers is another factor that makes the country’s migration issues deserving of more specific attention.

He pointed out that unscrupulous placement agencies in other countries drive human trafficking and labor exploitation toward Saudi Arabia.

“There are those who arrive here who are victims of organized gangs that bring them here from their home countries taking advantage of their need for work,” he said. “This is not acceptable. Efforts are still under way to correct these problems.”

Al-Sudairi also underscored Saudi Arabia’s proximity to the Horn of Africa, and says in many cases the treatment of people from that region during their deportation is more humane than the circumstances that brought them to the Kingdom in the first place.

Regarding the oft-cited issue of the treatment of maids (which has resulted, among other things, in the need for women’s shelters that are run by the foreign missions of countries that are major suppliers of domestic servants, such as Indonesia and the Philippines) Al-Sudairi said that the abuses that occur are considered illegal by the Saudi government.

“Saudi Arabia never claims to be perfect,” he said. “Efforts being made have not reached satisfactory levels.”

Al-Sudairi said he would like to see US State Department officials communicate more directly with Saudi counterparts before releasing this annual report.

“It would help illustrate several important points which would make the report more objective and accurate,” he said.


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