Skip to main content

Statements Special Procedures


28 October 2002

28 October 2002

Following is the statement made to the press in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the independence of judges and lawyers, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, on 27 October 2002:

“I would like to thank you all for coming here today at the conclusion of my mission to Saudi Arabia (20 to 27 October). I will make a brief statement of preliminary observations resulting from my visit and then I am open to any questions that you may have. An official report containing a full set of conclusions and recommendations resulting from the mission will be prepared and be made public at the next session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March 2003.

“Firstly, I would like to thank the Government of Saudi Arabia for facilitating my mission. In preparation for the mission they have been extremely co-operative and during the mission I have found them to be welcoming, open to my questions and willing to share information concerning the operation of their judicial system.

“The purpose of my visit was to examine the operation of the legal system in light of the international human rights standards pertaining to the administration of justice. In this respect I have met with many individuals involved in all aspects of the administration of justice including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, those involved in legal education, representatives of the prison service and the Ministers of Justice, Labour and Social Affairs, Islamic Affairs, Foreign Affairs and the Minster of the Interior. I have also received many documents of which I will examine and provide observations on in my final report.

“My preliminary observations are:

1. The Government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I have been informed that the Government is considering the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Government is also proposing the establishment of a national human rights institution.

2. The administration of justice in Saudi Arabia is guided by the sharia, of which the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Holy Prophet are the constitution. The sharia contains many of the guarantees with respect to the independence of the judiciary, the right to a fair trial and due process contained in international human rights law. It is not disputed that the essence of the sharia is the pursuit of justice. What I have been most interested in under my mandate are the procedures presently applied to achieve this very objective, ie justice.

3. The legal system is undergoing substantial changes both structurally and procedurally. This reform program takes place in the context of the desire of the Government of Saudi Arabia to better achieve the objectives contained in the sharia. As a result of this program the judicial system is currently in a stage of transition.

4. A law creating a separate Department of Investigation and Prosecution was issued in 1989, was established in 1995 and has begun operations in the last few years. We have been informed that implementing legislation for this code is in the process of development.

5. A new criminal procedure code has been issued, explicitly enumerating the rights of the accused. Implementing regulations for the criminal procedure code have been issued. The criminal procedure code represents an important step in the regulation of the administration of justice.

6. I have noted that many of these new laws have taken a long time to implement. In this respect I have discussed my concerns on this matter with the relevant authorities.

7. A new law on the legal profession has also been issued. The Government has commenced the process of registering lawyers and intends on finishing registration within 5 years. There is no separate association representing the interests of lawyers. There is no legislation on the provision of legal aid. In this regard I have not been able to ascertain how many lawyers there are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, except for the numbers so far registered.

8. The Basic Law of Government and the Law on the Judiciary provides for an independent judiciary. However the judiciary, as part of the overall administration of justice, can only dispense justice effectively if there is an impartial prosecutorial service and an independent legal profession.

9. I have learnt that there is some resistance on the part of some judges to the presence of lawyers in their courts due to a perception that they interfere with the ability of the judge to ensure that justice is done in a particular case. I have also been informed that there is opposition by some prosecutors, as they perceive that lawyers interfere with their ability to investigate the case. In this respect there has not been a culture of legal representation in the courts but this may soon be rectified.

10. Lawyers play an important role in ensuring the rule of law and are an integral part of the administration of justice. Lawyers are crucial in ensuring the rights of the accused are respected at all stages of the proceedings. In this connection I encourage the Government to continue its efforts to regulate and improve the qualifications of lawyers without in anyway impinging on their independence.

11. I am concerned about the lack of compliance with some international standards of due process, in particular with respect to the right of anyone deprived of their liberty by arrest or detention to be promptly brought before a court to ensure the legality of their continuing detention. I am also concerned about the frequent reliance on confessional evidence before the courts to prove an offence.

12. In this respect the legislation concerning the activities of the Department of Investigation and Prosecution does not appear to meet with the international requirements. I have had extensive discussions on these issues with the relevant authorities.

13. I have learned that approximately 50% of graduates in law faculties of universities are women. However, many women do not progress to the practice of law. I have also learnt that there are no restrictions on them appearing as lawyers before the courts. More women should be encouraged seek admission to the legal profession and practice before the courts”.

* *** *