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Press briefing notes on Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 29 May 2018

(1) Saudi Arabia

We are disturbed by the arrest in Saudi Arabia, over the past two weeks, of a number of activists and human rights defenders working on issues relating to women’s rights. Since 15 May, it appears that at least 13 activists, mostly women, have been arrested, although four of the women were reported to have been subsequently released.

Given the significant loosening of certain restrictions on women’s activities in Saudi Arabia in recent months, including the forthcoming ending of the ban on women driving, it is perplexing why both women and men engaged in campaigning for such positive developments are now being targeted by the authorities.

According to Saudi media reports, the allegations against the remaining six women and three men known to have been taken into custody, appear to be very serious, and could lead to draconian sentences. The detainees’ whereabouts are unknown, and it is reported that most of them have only been permitted to make a single telephone call to their families since they were arrested. One woman has allegedly been detained completely incommunicado.

We urge the Saudi Arabian authorities to reveal their locations, and ensure their rights to due process guarantees. These include the right to legal representation, the right to know the reason for their arrests, the nature of the charges against them, the right to have access to their families, the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and if charged with an offense, the right to be brought to trial within a reasonable period of time.

If, as it appears, their detention is related solely to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women’s issues, they should be released immediately. We are concerned that the lack of transparency surrounding their situation could open the door to abuse of their physical and psychological integrity, and remind the Saudi authorities of the total prohibition of torture and harmful or degrading treatment under international law.

We are also concerned by the apparent arbitrary detention and disappearances of other people, without explanation or apparent due process. A recent example is Nawaf Talal Rasheed, a prince from the Al-Rashid dynasty, and the son of the late poet Nawaf Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rashid. He is a dual national (Qatari and Saudi Arabian) and was allegedly deported from Kuwait on 12 May, and has not been heard of since. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately provide information concerning his whereabouts, and make clear whether or not he has been arrested, detained or charged, and if so on what grounds. And, as in the case of the women’s rights activists, we call on the authorities to ensure his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as due process.

(2) Afghanistan

Violence against women in Afghanistan, including so-called “honour killings”, too often goes unpunished, despite concrete efforts by the Government to criminalise these practices, with victims often pressured into agreeing to mediation, instead of the alleged perpetrator being brought to trial, a UN report published on Tuesday has said.

The report by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences against Women, examines the wide use of mediation by community leaders, Shuras, Ulemas and Jirgas, as well as Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) institutions to resolve criminal offences against women.

It is based on 237 documented cases of violence against women between 1 August 2015 and 31 December 2017, 280 cases of murder and “honour killings” in 2016 and 2017 and focus group discussions with 1,826 mediators. It also details the experience of survivors who underwent mediation after initially having registered a complaint with the authorities.

“The wide use of mediation when a woman or girl has been beaten, mutilated or murdered, or when she has been the victim of that awful concept of ‘honour killing’,   normalizes such violence and makes it much more likely to recur. It also erodes the confidence of women – and the wider public – in the legal system,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

The full press release is available here.

Read full report.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / rcolville@ohchr.org), or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 94 66 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.

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