UN Authority Figures

U.N. General Assembly Third Committee, the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, Rapporteur: Saudi Arabia

Photo: Saudi women in Hofuf city, east of Riyadh, Al-Arabiyah
"[A]ll women in the country were prohibited from driving...Women were not permitted to vote and did not sit in the cabinet or as judges...rape against women and boys and domestic violence against women remained serious problems. The majority of rape cases are not reported because victims face societal reprisal, often being deemed unfit for marriage or even punished as a result of having been raped. There were no laws specifically outlawing domestic violence..." (US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2008, Saudi Arabia)

Mission of the Third Committee, the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, of the General Assembly: The Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee deals with "a range of social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues that affect peoples all over the world...the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination..." (General Assembly - Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee web-site, "Third Committee")

Term of office: 2008-2009

Saudi Arabia's Record on "human rights issues that affect peoples all over the world...the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination":
"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...The legal system is based on the government's interpretation of Shari'a in all general courts. Ordinary, or summary, courts exercise jurisdiction over common criminal cases and rely on interpretation of the Koran rather than a penal code in civil suits regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance...The Basic Law does not provide for freedom of speech or the press, and the government generally did not respect these rights in practice. Several major media outlets were owned by members of the royal family, and individuals were not permitted to criticize the royal family publicly. The government actively impeded criticism and monitored citizens' political activity...The government continued to restrict freedom of speech and press by interrupting publication and dissemination of news sources critical of the royal family or of Islam...The Basic Law does not address freedom of assembly, which the government strictly limited in practice. Public demonstrations were prohibited...The Basic Law does not address freedom of association, and the government strictly limited this right in practice. The government prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing the regime or possibly overstepping the bounds of criticism by challenging the king's authority...The Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion. All citizens are expected to adhere to Islamic principles. The legal system is based on the government sanctioned version of Shari'a. Conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, and persons accused of apostasy face physical abuse and threats of execution unless they recant...There is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom, and it was severely restricted in practice. The government limited the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam, limiting the public practice of Muslim sects other than Sunni Islam and prohibiting the public practice of, profession of, or possession of literature and symbols relating to other religions...The public practice of non Muslim religions is prohibited...Under the family monarchy system enshrined in the Basic Law, only a few members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, in the composition of the government, or in changing the political system...Discrimination against women was a significant problem...There were no laws specifically outlawing domestic violence...Violence against women was widely tolerated. Abusers were rarely prosecuted, and investigations were rarely carried out for complaints of violent attacks, rapes, murders, or suicides of women. Women who reported rape faced imprisonment and accusations of adultery...Women were restricted in their use of public facilities when men were present and sat in designated sections. Women risked arrest by religious police for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who was not an employee or a close male relative. In public a woman must wear an abaya (a black garment that covers the entire body) and also cover her head and hair...In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women, and Shari'a stipulates that daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers. Divorce laws also discriminated against women...The press reported a number of cases of child marriage involving young female children wed to young male children or to much older males, both by arranged marriage and without the participants' consent...Foreign workers from Africa and Asia were subject to various forms of formal and informal discrimination and had the most difficulty in obtaining justice for their grievances...Under Shari'a as interpreted in the country, sexual activity between two persons of the same gender is punishable by death or flogging...Despite revisions to elementary and secondary textbooks, the books still retained some language that was intolerant of other religious traditions, especially Jewish, Christian, and Shia beliefs...Many foreign workers were subjected to abusive conditions, including nonpayment of wages for periods of time ranging from several months to more than a year, debt bondage, confinement, confiscation of travel and identity documents, long hours without days off, contract switching, intimidation, and physical abuse..." (US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2008, Saudi Arabia)