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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


6 February 2009 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Saudi Arabia this morning, during which 54 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the Russian Federation, following the review of the country on Wednesday, 4 February.

· Presenting the national report of Saudi Arabia was ZAID AL-HUSSAIN, Vice-President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia, who, while noting that the national report of his country was prepared in accordance with UPR guidelines, said all Government authorities and civil society institutions in the Kingdom were fully involved in the report. One of the Kingdom’s main features lied in its rapid transformation from a tribal society, characterized by conflicts and widely dispersed and totally unconnected regions where people lived in isolation and forms of economic and educational backwardness. Religious particularities, as correctly viewed in Islam, supplemented, rather than detracted, from international human rights standards. Saudi Arabia derived its values from all sources inspired by the same purposes as the country’s Islamic Shari’a. Islamic Shari'a focused special concern for the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities and non-Muslims. The Government of Saudi Arabia acknowledged that there were some human rights violations attributable to individual practices. Many of these violations fell within the context of domestic violence. The Government was constantly endeavouring to prevent these violations by promoting greater social awareness and, where necessary, imposing deterrent penalties on their perpetrators. Women’s awareness of their rights has been considerably increased in recent years through the social development centres, women’s association and the National Society for Human Rights which has adopted a policy of disseminating and promoting a legal culture, in general, and women’s rights, in particular.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also sought to achieve a balance between requirements of the campaign against terrorism and the need to respect human rights. From the beginning of the terrorist problem in the Kingdom to the end of 2008, about $100 million in compensation had been paid to persons detained in terrorist cases and who were later found to be innocent. On civil society, there were more than 1,000 civil society and other institutions concerned with issues relating to the protection of human rights. Since the submission of the UPR national report, the Consultative Council approved a legislative enactment regulating the activities of these institutions and guaranteeing their independent functioning without fear of being exploited. In Islam, rights were derived from the Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, which constituted the source of all legislation and a comprehensive mode of life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has adopted promising plans of human rights, which included the adoption of a comprehensive programme sponsored by the Human Rights Commission and which included the participation of all governmental agencies and civil society. Like other States, Saudi Arabia was not exempt from certain manifestations of human trafficking and the Government was taking rigorous measures to combat such violations and had conducted numerous symposia and training courses have been held in collaboration with various local and international bodies. These endeavours culminated in the drafting of a Prevention of Human Trafficking Act designed to eradicate this phenomenon.

The Saudi Human Right Commission, the head of delegation added, was in close conformity with the Paris Principles and achieved its objectives within the limits of its mandate. In terms of freedom of religion and belief, the aims of the Government’s initiatives were to promote mutual understanding among followers of the predominant global religions and cultures; to highlights the beneficial aspects of these cultures; and to affirm the importance of common denominators and the need to use them to develop human civilization and pave the way for universal peace and harmony. In conclusion, Mr. Al-Hussein said his Government appreciated the initiative taken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in organizing a symposium in October 2008 on freedom of expression and the advocacy of religious hatred. It was the hope of the Saudi Government that other steps would be taken as a follow-up to that symposium, which, in the view of the Government, clearly established that freedom of expression did not include the advocacy of hatred.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the measures taken to improve the rights of women in society; the creation of the National Human Rights Commission; the progress achieved in improving the health infrastructure; progress made in the right to adequate housing and the establishment of a housing development fund; recent developments in immigration and labour laws; development and relief assistance efforts; the democratic progress achieved; efforts to uphold the rights of migrant workers; the accession to international human rights instruments as regard the rights of children; the leading role played by Saudi Arabia in encouraging dialogue among civilizations; and the setting up of the National Society for Human Rights.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures taken to combat domestic violence; the possibility of legislative reforms to ensure equality between men and women; the legislative provisions ensuring equality between boys and girl; the steps to follow up to the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to eliminate cases of forces marriages for those under 18; the activities of the Higher National Committee for Women’s Affairs; information on measures in place to combat human trafficking; the intention to raise the age of criminal responsibility; efforts to uphold the rights of disabled persons; and the family and community medicine system.

Other issues raised pertained to remittances of migrant workers; efforts to uphold the rights of migrants living and working in the country; efforts to promote a culture of human rights in Saudi Arabia; key challenges and achievements to ensure the realization of everyone’s right to promote and strive for the realization of human rights individually or in the association with others; the timeline for signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; intentions to ratify the Rome Statue on the International Criminal Code; information on allegations that Saudi domestic law did not explicitly prohibit torture and that the same applied to Shari’a law; the moves to protect the right to private worship for all religious; and the role being played by the counselling boards and how they contributed towards rehabilitation and reforming persons convicted of terrorism offences.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To continue progress in protecting the rights of women in children; to develop a comprehensive national plan of action for the incorporation of human rights for women into national legislation and practices to ensure the eradication of violence against women; to dismantle the male guardianship system, and allow the freedom of movement, access to work, study, and health care, as well as equal standing before the courts and the rights to vote for women; to implement the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; to withdraw its reservation to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women as regards; to abolish all legislation, measures and practices that discriminated against women; to abolish legislation, measures and practices that prevented women from participating fully in society on an equal basis; and to strengthen efforts to secure that any violations committed against migrant women were acted upon.

Other recommendations included: To look into the possibility of ratifying international human rights instruments not yet ratified by the State; to continue to cooperate in a generous way with developing countries; to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; to grant a visit to the Special Procedures who have requested to visit the country; to allow all international human rights organizations wishing to visit Saudi Arabia to be allowed to; to ratify the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court; to consider the elaboration of specific legislative guidelines for the codification of discretionary penalties and dissemination of such guidelines among all judges, lawyers and prosecutors concerned; and to effectively combat impunity.

Additionally, States recommended that Saudi Arabia continue efforts to fight terrorism; to cease the application of torture and corporal punishment; to abolish the death penalty; amend the Code of Criminal Practice to stipulate that only individuals over 18 years old will be tried as adults and, as a result, the execution of any individual less than 18 when they committed the crime should be transfered to a custodial sentence; enhance the experience in the field of reintegration of prisoners; identify and implement legal machinery to monitor and sanction cases of torture; ensure the separation of juvenile prisoners from adult prisoners; ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; and intensify efforts to reintegrate and rehabilitate persons accuses of terrorism.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia was recommended to continue to promote inter-religious dialogue; to reform its legislation on religious freedom in order to ensure adequate protection for all religious minorities; to continue to play a leading role in enhancing inter-faith dialogue; to end the practice of incarcerating, mistreating and applying travel bans against individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs; to enact and implement a Law of Association to guarantee the right to form civil society organizations and protect those organizations from government interference; to enable to establishment of civil society without supervision by State authorities; to ensure that any obstacles to freedom of expression and movement against human rights defenders were lifted and travel bans removed; to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families; to establish a broad-based media campaign on the rights of migrants in Arabic and in the languages of migrants; to ensure that all rights were extended to all migrant workers; and to continue with programmes to improve the economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the United Kingdom, Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bahrain, Pakistan, Jordan, Canada, Italy, Chile, Mexico, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, India, Switzerland, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Bangladesh and France.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Algeria, Venezuela, Yemen, Oman, Morocco, Sudan, Libya, Qatar, Lebanon, Austria, Côte d’Ivoire, Palestine, Finland, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Belgium, Kuwait, Turkey, Tunisia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, New Zealand and Chad.

· The 49-person delegation of Saudi Arabia consisted of representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, the Kind Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue, the Council of Ministers Panel of Experts, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, the Public Investigation and Prosecution Department, the King Abdul Aziz National Guard Medical City, the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Higher Education/King Saud University, the Consultative Council, the Women’s Al-Nahda Association, the Thaqif Charitable Association, the Al-Wafa Charitable Association, the Public Relations Department, the Office of the Vice-President, the Department of International Organizations and Relations, the Office of the Vice-President and the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Saudi Arabia are Germany, Madagascar and Qatar.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Saudi Arabia can be found here.

· Adoption of report on the Russian Federation: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Russian Federation are Ghana, Chile and Bahrain. Introducing the report ABDULLA ABDULLATIF ABDULLA (Bahrain), said the troika unanimously welcomed the level of commitment of the Russian Federation during the preparation of the review and during the drafting of the Working Group report, which was a signal of the importance that the Russian Federation attributed to the UPR process. The Russian Federation was open to suggestions and recommendations put forward and it was hoped that the Russian Federation would be able to take positive encouragement from this process and continue to promote and protect human rights and constructively apply all the recommendations which have gained its support. Representing the State under review, GEORGYI O. MATYUSHKIN, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, thanked the delegations who spoke and inscribed to speak. The large number of delegations who inscribed to speak was evidence that interest the international community attached great importance to the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation was pleased with the results of the discussion, which would be brought to the attention of the Government and shared with civil society. Some of the recommendations were acceptable and would be taken into account in the State’s human rights polices. The recommendations which were unacceptable would be communicated to the June session of the Human Rights Council.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, 10 February.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Senegal after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Azerbaijan.

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