During the 45th session of the Human Rights Council that kicked off on September 14, 2020, Saudi Arabia stated that freedom of expression for every citizen is fully respected, but the reality is quite different, as the number of human rights defenders and political activists in Saudi prisons is rising. In the same context, several Western countries in that session raised concerns about the fate of women activists in Saudi Arabia. In a joint statement, read out by Denmark on behalf of nearly 30 countries, the statement called for pressure on the Kingdom to immediately release them, along with all other political detainees. The statement called for the release of all political detainees in Saudi Arabia, stressing the need to hold the perpetrators accountable for human rights violations in the kingdom. The High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed her deep concern about the continued arbitrary detention of a number of women human rights defenders in the Kingdom and called for their urgent release. In a related context, France called on Saudi Arabia to stop using the death penalty as a means to silence dissent. Sweden also called on the kingdom to guarantee freedom of expression, assembly and association. Luxembourg called on Saudi Arabia to stop targeting human rights defenders and fully guarantee the free exercise of civil and political liberties, and condemned the reprisals against opponents.
On November 2020, Saudi Arabia held the presidency of the G20 into virtual forums because of covid-19 pandemic. As revealed by the annual report of 2021 published by Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia continues to violate human rights at several levels, among it:
-Freedom of Expression, Association, and Belief:
Saudi authorities in 2020 continued to repress dissidents, human rights activists, and independent clerics. Prominent women’s rights activists detained in 2018 remained in detention while on trial for their women’s rights advocacy, including Loujain al-Hathloul who was released recently due to pressure from international socities and NGO’s.
ON March 2020, the kingdom opened a mass trial of 68 Jordanians and Palestinians detained beginning in 2018 on vague allegations of links with a “terrorist organization.” Family members of defendants described a range of abuses by Saudi authorities following the arrests, including enforced disappearances, long-term solitary confinement, and torture.
Saudi Arabia has no written laws concerning sexual orientation or gender identity, but judges use principles of non codified Islamic law to sanction people suspected of committing sexual relations outside marriage, including adultery, extramarital, and homosexual sex.
– Yemen Airstrikes and Blockade
Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous unlawful attacks by the coalition that have hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. Some of these attacks may amount to war crimes. In September, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen stated that it had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Government of Yemen were responsible for human rights violations in Yemen, and recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court. The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an aerial and naval blockade since March 2015 and restricted the flow of life-saving goods and the ability for Yemenis to travel into and out of the country exacerbating an existing humanitarian crisis causing shortage in food, medicaments and fuel.
Saudi Arabia applies Sharia (Islamic law) as its national law. There is no formal penal code, In the absence of a written penal code or narrowly worded regulations, however, judges and prosecutors can convict people on a wide range of offenses under broad, catch-all charges such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom.” Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
Despite major women’s right reforms in recent years, including an end to travel restrictions (for example, women over 21, like men, can now obtain passports and travel abroad without a guardian’s permission), Saudi women still must obtain a male guardian’s approval to get married, leave prison, or obtain certain healthcare. Women also continue to face discrimination in relation to marriage, family, divorce, and decisions relating to children, including child custody. Men can still file cases against daughters, wives, or female relatives under their guardianship for “disobedience,” which can lead to forcible return to their male guardian’s home or imprisonment. Women’s rights activists remain in jail or on trial for their peaceful advocacy.
Migrant workers continued to report abuse and exploitation, sometimes amounting to forced labor. The kafala (visa sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to “sponsoring” employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country. Some employers confiscate passports, withhold wages, and force migrants to work against their will. Saudi Arabia also imposes an exit visa requirement, forcing migrant workers to obtain permission from their employer to leave the country. Workers who leave their employer without their consent can be charged with “absconding” and face imprisonment and deportation.
Migrant domestic workers, predominantly women, faced a range of abuses exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions including overwork, forced confinement, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, for which there was little redress.
Amnesty International mentioned as well, by its 2020’s annual report the violations of human rights concerning fair trials, death penalty, corporal judicial punishment and immigrant workers rights.