Saudi Arabia has acceded to four of the seven major United Nations conventions concerned with human rights, namely: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1997), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2000), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1997), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1996).
Saudi Arabia has also acceded to five of the eight International Labour Organization (ILO ) conventions concerned with human rights, namely: Conventions (29) and (105) on Forced or Compulsory Labour (1978). The two Conventions (100 & 111) concerning the prevention of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (1978). Convention (182) concerning the prevention of employing children and minors (2001).
Saudi Arabia made reservations on certain provisions of some conventions it has acceded to:
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: general reservation on provisions that contradict Islamic Law "Shari'a", and article (22) pertaining to approval of all concerned parties to refer any dispute to the International Court of Justice.
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: general reservation of not abiding by provisions that contradict Islamic Law, and article (9/2) pertaining to equality of both parents with regards to their children's citizenship, observing Islamic codes. Article (29/1) pertaining to referring any dispute among state parties over interpreting or implementing the convention to the International Court of Justice. Saudi Arabia considered itself uncommitted by this paragraph.
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: article (20) did not recognize the jurisdiction of this convention's committee and article (30/1) considered unbinding to the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. Saudi Arabia also acceded to the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004, but did not ratify it like most Arab countries.
Human Rights Institutions
On September 12, 2005 Saudi Arabia established a governmental body to advance human rights under the name of "The National Committee for Human Rights" that consists of 24 members. The Ministry of Interior approved the committee's formation in 2006 after long delay. The new body cooperates fully with the National Association for Human Rights approved by late King Fahd on March 9, 2004. The Association has 41 members, 10 of whom are women. Its mandate includes: monitoring and following up on human rights conditions, receiving and investigating complaints. The association had inspected the condition of Saudi prisons, published its opinion regarding many cases it dealt with in 2005. The society intensified its activities in 2006, criticized the draft law of civil societies and demanded judicial reforms that guarantee equal punishment for similar crimes, and established an electronic website (www.nshr-sa.org). On the other hand, two associations filed in registration applications as civil human rights societies, but they did not receive approval yet.
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
1. The first municipal election in the country's history took place in 2005. Citizens were invited to elect half of the municipal seats over three phases that lasted from February to April 2005. The government filled the other half through appointment.
2. Establishing a journalists association in 2003, for the first time ever.
3. Establishing "King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue" in 2003, and initiating a series of intellectual dialogue on societal concerns and issues.
4. The Saudi government permitted in December 2006 a visit by "Human Rights Watch" fact finding mission that lasted 4 weeks. The mission members hold several meetings with Saudi officials and visited some prisons.