Last edited: February 12, 2005

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Groups Emerging

Human Rights Watch, May 9, 2003

New York—The royal decree approving the establishment of Saudi Arabia’s first nongovernmental human rights organization is a welcome initiative that holds a promise of greater freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said today. In addition, the government plans to launch its own national human rights body.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal announced on May 6 that the private rights group will be “completely independent,” although its founders and proposed activities have yet to be disclosed. Prince Saud also reported that the government was moving ahead with the creation of its own national human rights institution. He said that this entity would be responsible for “implementing government decisions” regarding human rights, and “reformulating local laws so they are consistent with the basic system of governance, which is primarily based on human rights.”

“A state-sponsored human rights group needs teeth to do effective work,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “We are hopeful that this new organization will have real influence, but only time will tell.”

A Human Rights Watch delegation learned from Prince Saud during a visit to the kingdom in January 2003 that a national human rights institution was in the process of being formed. The delegation discussed with the foreign minister the importance of such a body having the ability to operate independently and the authority to carry out its mandate effectively.

Human rights groups in Saudi Arabia should be permitted to determine their own structure, mandate and membership; investigate human rights abuses without government interference; disseminate information freely inside the country and abroad; and communicate and cooperate with regional and international human rights organizations.

The United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders of 1999 should guide the government’s policies toward nongovernmental rights groups, and Saudi rights activists should be able to exercise all the rights in it, Human Rights Watch said.

Article 5 of the declaration guarantees to everyone the right, individually and in association with others, to meet and assemble peacefully; to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; and to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations. Article 12(1) provides for the right of everyone “to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and article 12(2) requires the state to protect human rights defenders from “any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” resulting from the exercise of the rights guaranteed in the declaration.

The government’s planned national human rights institution should be developed in accordance with internationally recognized standards embodied in the U.N. Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights (the Paris Principles). These were endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993. The national group should have as broad a mandate as possible; a representative and pluralistic membership with specified terms; and the power to examine any human rights violation, propose remedies, and respond to government positions and reactions. It should also have the right to communicate its opinions and recommendations directly to the public.

To read more on human rights in Saudi Arabia, please see:

[Home] [World] [Saudi Arabia]