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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities examines the report of Saudi Arabia

GENEVE (21 March 2019) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its review of the initial report of Saudi Arabia on the measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Introducing the report, Bandar Aliaban, President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, said that the Disability Welfare Act set out the legal framework for the promotion and protection of rights of persons with disabilities, which was further strengthened by the 2013 legislation on the protection from harm, the 2014 law on the protection of the child, and the 2018 law against harassment.  On the institutional plain, Mr. Aliaban mentioned the Authority for the Care of Persons with Disabilities set up in February 2018, the Council for Family Affairs, and the Judicial Training Centre which provided capacity building in the field of human rights.  Saudi Arabia strived to ensure full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the field of work and enable them to obtain education and employment that ensured their independence and integration in the society.  Through the Quality of Life programme, a part of the Vision 2030, the Kingdom sought to ensure the accessible infrastructure throughout the country and was working to create the fully accessible physical environment to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and to integrate into society.  As the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia was committed to serving the pilgrims and visitors of all abilities to the holy places in Makkah and Madinah. 

During the dialogue that followed, the Experts put the accent on the situation of the most vulnerable persons with disabilities - women, children, and persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.  Women and girls with disabilities experienced multiple forms of discrimination and particularly worrying was the status of those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities who were most at risk of institutionalization.  The death penalty imposed on persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities was a great issue of concern, the Experts said and asked how many persons with disabilities had received a death sentence in 2017 and 2018.  The Experts decried the continued use of medical and charity model of disability and a rare mention of the rights of persons with disabilities in the country’s laws.  How would Saud Arabia proceed with the amendment of the Disability Care Act to bring it fully in line with the Convention and ensure that the human rights model of disability was implemented in all the laws and in all areas of life, they asked.  Stressing that the accessibility was a cornerstone in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, the Experts asked how they participated in the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the accessibility regulations and standards.

In conclusion, Mr. Aliaban said that the Committee’s concluding observations would be very useful in the revision of legal text aimed at improving the implementation of the Convention in the country. 

Imed Eddine Chaker, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, in his concluding remarks thanked the delegation for their comprehensive replies and the work done for the benefit of persons with disabilities in the country.

The delegation of Saudi Arabia consisted of the representatives of the Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Labour and Social Development, Office of the Prosecutor General, Council of Ministers, King Salman Centre for Disability Research, Sport Commission, Disability Commission, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Saudi Arabia at the end of its twenty-first session on 5 April.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 21 March to begin the consideration of the initial report of Vanuatu (CRPD/C/VUT/1).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Saudi Arabia (CRPD/C/SAU/1) and its reply to the list of issues (CRPD/C/SAU/Q/1/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

BANDAR ALIABAN, President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, in the introduction of the report said that his country attached great importance to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which it had acceded based on its Sharia-inspired values and laws.  The Government had adopted numerous measures for the protection of human rights including the Disability Welfare Act which set out the legal framework for the promotion and protection of rights of persons with disabilities.  The 2013 Act on the Protection from Harm and the 2018 Law against Harassment strengthened the protection against harm, ill-treatment, abuse and neglect in all sectors of the society, while the Law on the Protection of Childhood adopted in 2014 defined as a child any person under the age of 18.  Saudi Arabia had established the Authority for the Care of Persons with Disabilities in February 2018, while the Council for Family Affairs, set up in 2016, aimed to promote the family and enhance its role and status in society.  The Judicial Training Centre had been set up in 2014 to provide capacity building for judges and judicial assistants in the field of human rights. 

Furthermore, added Mr. Aliaban, the centres for rehabilitation for persons with disabilities were developing and growing, both in terms of their number and in the quality of services they provided; through those centres, the Government had provided approximately 500 billion Saudi riyals as financial assistance to 400,000 persons with disabilities.  Numerous measures had been taken to facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life, he continued.  Sign interpretation and assistance to persons with disabilities and during municipal elections was one example.  In 2017, the Government’s support to representative organizations of persons with disabilities had amounted to over 70 million Saudi riyals.  Complaints of violence, including domestic violence, could be filed through a centre which was active throughout the Kingdom and through a standardized helpline; in addition, the centre conducted awareness-raising programmes aimed at building a safe family environment throughout the national territory.  A free-of-charge helpline had been launched for children to report neglect, abuse, or violence in the family, schools, and any other public space, and it was opened to children with disabilities as well.  The Child Support Line had become a member of the Child Helpline International.

A key pillar in the process of promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities was the oversight by the concerned governmental and non-governmental bodies to ensure compliance with relevant regulations, laws, and the provisions of the Convention, said Mr. Aliaban, noting in this context the extensive activities by the Human Rights Commission to inspect and monitor the comprehensive rehabilitation centres.  In order to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities, the Supreme Order of January 2015 had mandated the inclusion of a human rights curriculum in higher education institutions in the Kingdom, while the e-learning portal for human rights had been launched to introduce students, including those with disabilities, to a culture of human rights.  The King Salman Center for Disability Research was preparing a project to develop universal access standards using modern technology for easy access.

Saudi Arabia strived to ensure full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the field of work and enable them to obtain education and employment that ensured their independence and integration in the society.  Through the Quality of Life programme, a part of the Vision 2030, the Kingdom sought to ensure accessible infrastructure throughout the country and the Government was working to create the fully accessible physical environment to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and integrate into society.  Furthermore, as the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia was committed to serving the pilgrims and visitors of all abilities to the holy places in Makkah and Madinah.  In conclusion, Mr. Aliaban emphasized that Saudi Arabia was moving towards the best levels of promotion and protection of human rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities, based on the Kingdom's constitutional principles and its obligations under international human rights law.

Questions by the Committee Experts

IMED EDDINE CHAKER, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, at the beginning of the dialogue, commended Saudi Arabia for its timely submission of the report and recognized the important contribution of representative organizations of persons with disabilities and civil society organizations who had engaged in a frank exchange with the Committee.  The Rapporteur reiterated that the Committee aimed to promote the full inclusion and participation of all persons with disabilities in the society and the political, economic, and social development of the country.  During the dialogue, the Committee would put the accent on the inclusion of the most vulnerable among persons with disabilities, namely women, children, and persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, he said.

In that vein, other Experts recognized the greater vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities to all forms of discrimination, especially those among them with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities who experienced greater rates of institutionalization.  The delegation was asked about the implementation in the domestic legislation of the Convention’s provisions relative to women with disabilities; the appeal mechanism available to women with disabilities in institutions; and the steps taken to repeal male guardianship over women and girls with disabilities.  The Experts also asked the delegation to explain how it empowered women with disabilities to realize their rights on an equal footing with other women in the society, whether there were any restrictions on women to work as sign language interpreters, and to provide data desegregated on basis of age, gender and disability on the number of persons with disabilities appointed to senior and managerial position. 

Turning to the situation of children with disabilities, the Experts asked whether they were protected by the law against mistreatment, negligence, and abandonment, and also asked about the number of children living in institutions, the realization of their right to education, and the steps taken to deinstitutionalize and include them in the community.  The Experts further remarked on the lack of training and awareness-raising activities for Government’s officers working with children with disabilities as well as for the families of children with disabilities, particularly those aiming to prevent their social exclusion and stigmatization.  A great issue of concern was the death penalty imposed on persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, the Experts said and asked how many persons with disabilities had received a death sentence in 2017 and 2018.  When would Saudi Arabia abolish representative organizations of persons with disabilities on persons with intellectual disabilities?

The Experts decried the continued use of the medical and charity model of disability in Saudi Arabia.  Its definition of disability was not in line with the human rights and social model promoted by the Convention, they said, while the rights of persons with disabilities were rarely mentioned in national laws.  How would Saud Arabia proceed with the amendment of the Disability Care Act to bring it fully in line with the Convention and ensure that the human rights model of disability was implemented in all the laws and in all areas of life?  What steps were being taken to develop a national strategy for persons with disabilities in line with the Convention?

They further enquired about a formal procedure in place to ensure the systematic participation and consultation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations on all matters that concerned them, especially those with intellectual, psychosocial and multiple disabilities.  Stressing that the accessibility was a cornerstone in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, the Experts asked about their participation in the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the accessibility regulations and standards.  Was the right to a fully accessible environment and services on an equal footing with others in the society enshrined in the law?

The disability-based discrimination in public and private spheres was not prohibited, the Experts remarked and asked whether the denial of reasonable accommodation was a form of discrimination under the law.  Would the prohibition of a marriage of genetically incompatible couple be lifted?  What were the budgetary allocations in 2018 to support small projects started by persons with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation responded to the questions concerning the participation of women and girls with disabilities in public and political life and stressed that there was no gender-based discrimination in Saudi Arabia and that women could become members of the Council and members of provincial and municipal bodies.  The delegation emphasized that the participation and engagement of women and girls with disabilities in public offices at all levels received the Government’s full support.

Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations actively participated in the development of relevant laws and policies that affected their rights, confirmed the delegation.  Persons with disabilities and their families comprised 40 per cent of the members of the Board of the Disability Welfare Commission, which had been set up in 2018 to deliver care for persons with disabilities and support the realization of their rights.  The Commission aimed at developing strategies and programmes for the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, and it also contributed to the institutional strengthening agencies in order to improve the quality of services provided to persons with disabilities, including in the areas of health, education, and employment.  Furthermore, the Commission aimed to elevate the position of persons with disabilities in the society and achieve a high standard in public services available to them.

The delegation stressed that the legislation in Saudi Arabia was based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination and said that article 8 of the basic law guaranteed justice and equality for all and prohibited discrimination based on disability.  In addition, the Law on Civil Services guaranteed recruitment of individuals in public service on the basis of merit while the Labour Code stipulated the equal right to work for all citizens.  Numerous measures were adopted to empower persons with disabilities and guarantee the enjoyment of rights on an equal basis with others.  An important element in this architecture was the right to a legal remedy, which too was available to all those who had suffered discrimination.  The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been domesticated and its provisions could be invoked in the court on an equal basis with the national law.

Saudi Arabia considered universal accessibility an issue of great importance, said the delegation.  Higher orders had been issued to the public institutions to guarantee the accessibility in urban areas, land and maritime transportation, tourism, and housing.  For example, school buses had been made accessible and regulations on taxi vehicles had been developed which obliged them to assist persons with disabilities.  Those orders also applied to the private sector entities which operated in the sectors concerned and were mainstreamed in the public procurement policy, said the delegation. 

Saudi Arabia paid particular attention to the accessibility of information and many public libraries adopted technologies to that end and electronic accessibility standards applied to all Government websites.  A range of services was available to facilitate access to information, from specialized reception centres which offered the required technology and equipment to sign language interpreters who were available to interpret communications with full respect for privacy and confidentiality to various forms of digital portals.  The aim was to enable persons with disabilities to independently conduct their business and be able to fully access public services when needed.

King Salman’s Centre for Disability Research worked to reduce the levels of disability in society and improve the lives of persons with disabilities and their families.  One of its strategic objectives was to improve the decision-making, planning, and priority-setting in research in line with the needs of persons with disabilities.  The Centre also played an important role in raising awareness through workshops, campaigns, and awards for quality research on various disability-related questions.

The delegation noted that capital punishment was in line with international law and was imposed only for most serious crimes.  The appeal went through 13 different levels of courts, ending with the Supreme Court whose decision was final.  According to the juvenile justice law, if a juvenile committed a capital crime, he or she would be placed under house arrest for a maximum period of ten years.  Torture was prohibited in all its forms and the Criminal Code contained legal safeguards that prevented torture.  Evidence obtained under torture was not admissible in court.  There had been no cases of sterilization without the patient’s consent.

The delegation stressed that the protection of the best interest of children was a priority in Saudi Arabia.  This principle guided all measures and decisions by private and public children welfare institutions or the judiciary.  Children with disabilities were protected from abuse under the 2013 law on the protection from abuse, which provided for urgent help and treatment, shelter, and social and psychological care.  The law also contained provisions to hold the perpetrators to account and to educate the society on the concept and forms of abuse.  The law on the protection of the child contained provisions to protect the children from abuse in all spheres of life, including from mistreatment, verbal, or physical assault.  The act further stipulated the obligation of the State to provide care for the children without a family and for the children abused or neglected by their families.  The delegation confirmed that there were cases in which families hid their children with disabilities because of stigma and all such cases were adequately addressed.

Sign language was included in the programmes of the Ministry of Education, which conducted periodic training of its teaching staff.  Training of deaf children in Braille and sign language was done through workshops, and there were also workshops that targeted teachers in kindergartens and primary schools.

The Ministry of Labour and the employment offices were tasked with providing training for persons with disabilities to obtain the necessary qualifications and to support the search for work.  Saud Arabia considered employment to be the key factor for the social integration of persons with disabilities and their productive and independent lives.  Training activities were conducted in the habilitation centres for women and men separately; trainees were given financial grants during the programme while graduates received financial grants and facilitated loans for their projects.  Some of the measures adopted to promote the employment of persons with disabilities included the provision demanding employers with more than 25 employees to employ a certain number of professionally qualified persons with disabilities; several laws that encouraged the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector; and programmes for the inclusion of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and autistic persons in the labour market. 

The Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Information put in place an important number of awareness-raising campaigns on human rights in general and on disability rights in particular.  They focused on promoting social integration and equal opportunities and obliterating negative stereotypes and social stigma against persons with disabilities.  In addition, the Ministry of Media and Information developed media content on persons with disabilities, while a space in the national newspapers was reserved for reporting and stories on disability issues.  Sign language interpretation was available for all visual content. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Committee Experts raised the issue of the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and asked the delegation what concrete steps were being taken to implement article 12 of the Convention and replace substitute decision-making with the supportive one.  Urging the closure of institutions for persons with disabilities, they asked the delegation to provide data on their residents segregated by age, sex, and the type of disability, and to inform on the living conditions in the residential institutions. 

What was the country doing to ensure the realization of the right of all persons with disabilities to choose where and who with they wanted to live and to live independently in the community?  Assistive technology was a link that enabled children with disabilities to live a full life in dignity, noted the Experts and remarked on the lack of a systematic framework and public budget for the acquisition of quality mobility aids, devices, and assistive devices.

What concrete measures were being taken to prevent violence, abuse, and exploitation of all persons with disabilities and especially women and girls and those living in institutions?  What complaint mechanism was available to persons with disabilities in this regard?

The delegation was asked about the system in place to protect the rights of women and children with disabilities the situations of war; the protection of human rights of disabled migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons; and the measures adopted to ensure that all persons with disabilities were registered and had a citizen identification card, just like all the citizens of Saudi Arabia?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation replied that persons with disabilities enjoyed legal capacity on an equal footing with other citizens.  If the legal capacity was limited, the best interest of the individual was always taken into account in line with the Islamic Sharia and domestic laws.  Each case was treated individually and not all persons with intellectual disabilities were stripped of legal capacity.

Institutionalization was reserved for persons with severe and multiple disabilities, which ensured that they received care with their consent.  There were currently more than 7,000 persons with disabilities in institutions, which were supervised by the Human Rights Commission.

All violence was prohibited, including against persons with disabilities.  The Protection from Abuse Act combated violence in all its forms and manifestations and was particularly protective of persons with disabilities.  The law placed an obligation of reporting all acts of violence on witnesses and in particular on military and police officers.  The delegation reaffirmed that the identity of those reporting the violence was protected and that the Prosecutor’s General Office investigated all the reports.  All medical facilities were trained to follow up on incidents of violence and report them to the Social Care Committee. 

Protection teams in all areas of the Kingdom had been set up and were tasked to receive complaints, refer the cases to judicial authorities, and provide assistance to the victims.  The Family Affairs Council had a supervisory mechanism to address the cases of domestic violence in order to ensure that all laws and decisions were complied with within the family environment. 

Promoting the rights of persons with disabilities was human rights-based approach, based on Islamic Sharia.  The law addressing persons with disabilities were regularly amended to bring them in line with the international standards on disability.  The delegation reiterated that equality of all citizens in the Kingdom and equal recognition of persons with disabilities by the law.  The Criminal Code accommodated the testifying by persons with disabilities and legal aid was provided free of charge.

The Government supported the daily care centres for persons with disabilities living in communities, where some 17,000 individuals accessed a range of services for five hours a day.  The centres offered physical therapy, social and educational programmes, and recreational programmes.  Home care services were provided by specialized teams to more than 10,000 persons with disabilities.  The Council of Ministers had passed a law that required the State to pay fees for a driver, a domestic worker and nurse as personal assistance to persons with disabilities; to this end, around 3,000 visas and resident permits had been issued.  The Ministry of Health provided prosthesis to those who needed them.

The issue of nationality was regulated by the Citizenship Act, said the delegation and conferment the eligibility for citizenship for individuals born in Saudi Arabia to unknown parents and those born to Saudi mother and a foreign father.  Birth registration was compulsory for each child within 30 days following the birth. 

Numerous steps had been taken to strengthen the personal autonomy and social integration of persons with disabilities.  The Disability Welfare Act provided for the accessibility to public institutions, public transportation, day care, medical and technological assistive devices, and car adjustments so that persons with disabilities could drive.

Education was mandatory from the age of six to 15 years; failure to provide it was treated as a violation of children’s rights and discrimination.

The Convention was made known to the public by a direct introduction by Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations through training and workshops; through awareness-raising campaigns in the media; and the national days of disabilities.

Participation of women and girls with disabilities was promoted in all fields, particularly in public and political life, whereby they participated in conducting public affairs and in elections.  Polling stations had been made accessible and assistance was available to persons with disabilities.  The Social Development Centres focused on involving the local population in identifying their needs and encouraged local people to form committees to discuss all areas that influenced the quality of their lives.

The Building Code regulated the accessibility of building particularly in the prevention of risks in emergency situations.  There was also an application launched by the Ministry of Defence that enabled persons with disabilities to seek help through easy to follow steps.  A number of members in border control areas were trained on how to provide for the safety of persons with disabilities.  Media and educational documents were prepared for awareness raising of persons with disabilities in emergency situations.  

The Government supported representative organizations of persons with disabilities and saw them as vital partners in the promotion of human rights and national development.  There were currently more than 40 non-governmental organizations on which worked on disability-related issues; they could participate in the preparation of the periodic reports to human rights treaty bodies and in the preparation of the Universal Periodic Review reports, as well as in the preparation of studies designed to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.  Their complete independence was guaranteed by the law.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Committee Experts then turned to questions of marriage and family living and asked about the minimum age of marriage and the support available to parents with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities to ensure that all could enjoy their right to life in the family.

The delegation was asked to explain how the State assured that all persons with disabilities could access health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, and to guarantee the right to free and informed consent for all treatments.  What safeguards were in place to protect the right to privacy of persons with disabilities living in institutions?

On employment of persons with disabilities, the delegation was asked about the implementation of the four per cent quota and the sanctions for those businesses which did not comply.  Noting that 65,000 persons with disabilities were employed, the Experts asked for gender, age, and disability disaggregated data.

What opportunities were available for girls with disabilities to receive education and social inclusion programmes?  What was the legal status of sign language and how were the interpreters trained and certified?  What specific support was given for the development of sports for persons with disabilities?

The Experts noted the absence of quality disaggregated data that would allow the monitoring of the implementation of measures taken to improve the lives of persons with disabilities and asked whether Saudi Arabia would set up an independent monitoring framework in line with the Paris Principle to monitor the implementation of the Convention.  They also noted that there was a lack of the specialized body to address the rights of persons with disabilities at the federal, regional and municipal levels.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that discrimination on the grounds of disability in the matters related to the right to family, parenthood, and personal relationships was prohibited.  Saudi Arabia continuously improved its laws in this domain to bring them in line with international instruments.  The State guaranteed the rights of persons with disabilities and there were many programmes to support families that had members with disabilities, such as home care help and welfare services.

The delegation noted that 38 houses of comprehensive rehabilitation and more than 3,000 day-care centres had been set up by 2018 to provide high-quality rehabilitation and care to persons with disabilities.  The budget of 7.5 billion Saudi riyals was allocated to the health sector to ensure that there were sufficient financial, human, and technical resources to deliver high levels of health and social care to persons with disabilities.  All health services were being provided free of charge in the country’s public health structures.  Persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities received the information on their therapy plan and adequate treatment in a safe environment, said the delegation, stressing that they could not be interned without a proper procedure and without being informed of risks and alternative treatments.  No treatment was provided without the consent of the patient and confidentiality of the data was guaranteed.

The Special Olympics programme in 2017 aimed to regularly increase the number of athletes with disabilities, while the National Olympic Committee organized training activities and competitions and conducted public awareness campaigns on a regular basis.  Saudi athletes with disabilities had won four international competitions since 2004 and a great number of medals in summer and winter Paralympics.  Access to sports, cultural, and entertainment facilities in private and public centres was guaranteed by law.  There were dedicated parking places and special elevators in buildings, as well as special swimming and other sports equipment to help them use sports facilities.  The staff was trained to provide services for persons with disabilities.  Audio-visual and sign language materials were also provided.

At first, the general authority on statistics had used the Washington Group of short questions to collect disaggregated data and later on it used the Washington Group Extended Set to improve the quality of the collected data.

Concluding Remarks

BANDAR ALIABAN, President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the positive and constructive dialogue and said that its concluding observations would be very useful in the revision of legal text aimed at improving the implementation of the Convention in the country.  Saudi Arabia would print the Convention in Braille and emphasized that representative organizations of persons with disabilities were important partners in the legal and institutional structures that worked to improve the rights of persons with disabilities.  

IMED EDDINE CHAKER, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, said in his concluding remarks that Saudi Arabia would serve as an example to other Arab states and thanked the delegation for comprehensive replies and the work done for the benefit of persons with disabilities.

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the responses and explanations provided, as well as representative organizations of persons with disabilities and civil society representatives for their interest and contributions to the constructive dialogue.

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