Saudi under fire at UN over rights of women, workers

Gulf kingdom accused of jailing activists without due process and abusing rights of women and foreign workers

Asian laborers work at a flyover construction site in eastern Riyadh. (AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Asian laborers work at a flyover construction site in eastern Riyadh. (AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Saudi Arabia's rights record came under fire at the United Nations on Monday, critics accusing the kingdom of jailing activists without due process and abusing the basic rights of Saudi women and foreign workers.

At the UN Human Rights Council, Britain called for abolition of the Saudi system of male guardianship for women and was joined by the United States in raising cases of forced labour imposed on migrant workers.

The US delegation also voiced concern at Saudi restrictions on freedoms of religion and of association, while Germany called for a moratorium on its use of the death penalty.

"Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights Council," Joe Stork, deputyMiddle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement to the meeting.

Saudi Arabia, which hosts 9 million foreign workers out of a total population of 28 million, was taking all steps needed to protect their rights and provide appropriate conditions, said Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission.

They included a ban on outdoor work in the heat between mid-day and 3pm from June to August, when temperatures are usually higher than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and can soar to 50 degrees.

"With regard to women's rights, the Islamic Sharia (law) guarantees fair gender equality and the state's legislative enactments do not differentiate between men and women," he said.

Saudi women were full citizens able to dispose of their property and manage their affairs without seeking permission from anyone, he said.

Britain said more women should be placed in positions of authority and the Saudi government should end the guardianship system.

The rules restrict women's legal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, as well as choice of residency, education and jobs, U.N. experts have said previously.

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Posted by: DNS

Time for the UN to up the pressure on the other Gulf states too. Conditions might be better than Saudi, but its still far from what it should be.

Posted by: Ian

I have seen trends in our country as a result of granting more rights to women-some good and some bad. I know that women are more compassionate than men and what you will see is that when people do bad things, the women will resist traditional punishment. You will experience a permissive society as a result. In schools, there will be no failures....everyone will pass. Every lifestyle will be OK because the value system will get mushy. There is more that I could write, but you get the trend.

I encourage you to stay traditional and maintain the strict standards that characterize your society.

I don't think that men should get away with beating their wives in any society, and they should be judged accordingly. Why would someone beat their wife?

Posted by: Iyad

Why Saudi Arabia seems to have missed to develop similar to UAE, Qatar and Kuwait? Although Gulf citizens almost have the same characteristics and same religion!
What went wrong in Saudi Arabia? And why Saudi Arabia refuses to change, while other Gulf countries are racing to moderenize their nations? I believe the reason for above is Saudi being too large, with many different tribes and foreign nationals, it is more difficult to manage than other Gulf countries. Simply size matters. During 80s and 90s when oil prices were low, Saudi Arabia focused on making ends meet. This slump in oil prices killed their chances to spend money on development. Unfortunately, when oil prices went up in 2003, Saudi by then was infested with problems that became bigger than the Kingdom's ability to solve quickly. Things went wrong beyond eminent repair. Saudi needs time. They have deeply rooted problems they ignored. Now they are paying the price. Solution is Saudis themselves have to drive changes

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