Rights group urges more detail on Saudi abuse law

Human Rights Watch says authorities must disclose who will police domestic abuse violations

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

An international human rights group has welcomed Saudi Arabia's new draft law to criminalise domestic abuse but has called on authorities to detail how it will be enforced.

Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers broke new ground on August 26 by passing the draft law but Humand Rights Watch said it does "not detail specific enforcement mechanisms to ensure prompt investigations of abuse allegations or prosecution of those who commit abuses".

It called on Saudi Arabia’s Social Affairs Ministry to coordinate with the justice, interior, and other relevant ministries in drafting executive or implementing regulations clearly laying out the responsibilities of specific government agencies in implementing and enforcing the law.

The new law gives an unspecified “competent” government agency authority to investigate abuse allegations and take steps to ensure the safety of victims of abuse.

It authorises the agency to refer cases to criminal justice authorities to arrest, prosecute, and convict perpetrators of abuse and remove dependents from an abusive guardian’s care.

“Saudi Arabia has finally banned domestic abuse, but has yet to say which agencies will police the new law,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Without effective mechanisms to punish domestic abuse, this law is merely ink on paper.”

Prior to adoption of the Law on Protection from Abuse, Saudi criminal justice authorities had no written legal guidelines to treat domestic abuse as criminal behaviour.

The text of the new law, which Human Rights Watch has reviewed, defines domestic abuse as “all forms of exploitation, or bodily, psychological, or sexual abuse, or threat of it, committed by one person against another, including if [that person] has authority, power, or responsibility, or [if there is a] a family, support, sponsorship, guardianship, or living dependency relationship between the two [individuals].”

The law also classifies neglect as domestic abuse.

The law sets the penalty for domestic abuse at between one month and one year in prison and/or a fine of between SR5,000 ($1,333) and SR50,000 ($13,330) unless Sharia law provides for a harsher sentence. Judges can double the specified penalties for repeat offenders.

On August 28, the Saudi National Society for Human Rights welcomed the new law but noted “the necessity of issuing an executive regulation for the law urgently for its implementation and benefit.”

“Saudi ministers need to abolish discriminatory institutions that enable these abuses, including the male guardianship system and unfair rules for migrant workers,” Stork added.

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