Human rights in Saudi Arabia
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Saudi Arabian authorities have responded with repressive measures against those suspected of taking part in or supporting protests or expressing views critical of the state. Protesters have been held without charge and incommunicado for days or weeks at a time, and some are reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Nearly 20 people connected with protests in the Eastern Province have been killed since 2011 and hundreds have been imprisoned.
Where is Khashoggi?
Saudi Arabia came under intense criticism in 2018 following the October 2 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by Saudi agents. After weeks of denials and obfuscations, Saudi Arabia admitted to Khashoggi’s murder and announced the arrest of 18 individuals and firing of senior officials, but the statements appeared to be designed to insulate Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from further investigation over the murder.
Saudi authorities stepped up their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents and activists in 2018.
Yemeni airstrikes and blockades
Saudi Arabia began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. As of August, at least 6,592 civilians had been killed and 10,471 wounded, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), although the actual civilian casualty count is likely much higher. The majority of these casualties were a result of coalition airstrikes.
he 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 to varying degrees throughout the war.
The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which the coalition established in 2016 after evidence mounted of coalition violations of the laws of war, has so far failed even in its limited mandate to assess “claims and accidents” during coalition military operations. Its work has fallen far short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. As of September 2018, JIAT cleared the coalition of wrongdoing in most of the strikes investigated. There is no evidence JIAT investigated alleged abuses by coalition forces beyond unlawful airstrikes, such as mistreatment of detainees. Despite the coalition’s promises, there is no clear way for civilian victims or relatives to obtain redress from coalition forces. The coalition’s continuing unlawful airstrikes and failure to adequately investigate alleged violations puts weapons’ suppliers to the coalition at risk of complicity in future unlawful attacks.
Criminal justice law
Saudi Arabia applies Sharia (Islamic law) as its national law. There is no formal penal code, but the government has passed some laws and regulations that subject certain broadly-defined offenses to criminal penalties. 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.
Judges routinely sentence defendants to floggings of hundreds of lashes. Children can be tried for capital crimes and sentenced as adults if they show physical signs of puberty.
During 2018, authorities continued to detain arrested suspects for months, even years, without judicial review or prosecution. Saudi Arabia’s online prisoner database revealed in May that authorities were holding 2,305 individuals who are under investigation for more than six months without referring them to a judge, including 251 for over three years.
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