The US Department of State prepares an annual report, mandated by Congress, on the Human Rights situation in most countries of the world. Below is a link and the beginning of the report on Saudi Arabia. You can find the introduction to the global report here, and links to individual country reports here. The reports cover 2007, essentially, with reporting from US Embassies finished toward year’s end. A month or so of editing, revisions, and corrections goes on before the report is published. This year’s report seems rather more comprehensive than those of the past, but I think it would be a mistake to relate this to a new White House or State Department administration. Rather, it’s just the regular process of improving the thoroughness of the data reported.
In general, the report on the Kingdom find spotty improvements… no one died at the hands of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, for instance. The reports cites no ‘political prisoners’, though I’m not at all sure what definition of that term they’re using. The report, of course, does not include the reforms announced with the Cabinet shake-up.
The report is quite blunt in pointing to failures of the Saudi state in protecting a wide range of human rights considered universal in most of the world. Whether it’s religious freedom, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of the press, or unrestricted travel, there is much remaining to be done to bring Saudi Arabia up to the standards that most citizens of the world enjoy.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the Al-Saud family. The population is 28.2 million, including 5.8 million foreigners. Since 2005, King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al-Saud has ruled under the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to his responsibility for Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of Shari’a (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government. The law also provides that the Koran and the Traditions (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad serve as the country’s constitution. In 2005 the country held male only elections on a nonparty basis for half the members of municipal councils, the first elections for any government position since 1963. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; beatings; judicially sanctioned corporal punishment; impunity, particularly on the part of the religious police; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; incommunicado detention; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; corruption; and lack of government transparency. Violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. The sponsorship system limited the rights of foreign workers and remained a severe problem.
Improvements during the year included: increased publicly available information concerning specific instances of official corruption or of government action against corruption; no reports that authorities confiscated personal religious materials from individuals at ports of entry; and a process developed by the government for prenuptial agreements when the wife is a noncitizen, permitting her to travel without her husband’s permission.