Human Lives Human Rights: After the public scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group on Saudi Arabia stands as a guide for the minimum actions the Saudi authorities must take to fulfill their obligations under international human rights law.
The report, encompassing 354 recommendations from 135 UN member states, urges substantive measures for reforms. Recommendations focus on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, abolishing the death penalty, safeguarding migrant workers’ rights, and eliminating discrimination against women.
The fact that numerous UN member states seized the opportunity to confront Saudi Arabia over its litany of human rights abuses and press for reform underscores the need for genuine human rights reform. No amount of money spent on image laundering and sportswashing campaigns can conceal the rapidly escalating repression in the country.
Saudi Arabian authorities must perceive the review’s recommendations as a wake-up call to end their most egregious human rights violations, encompassing the relentless crackdown on freedom of expression, the sentencing of child offenders to death, and the torture and ill-treatment of migrants. The international community should not be deceived by any promises of change but instead exert collective influence to ensure crucial rights reforms occur in the country.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a recurring process where all UN member states undergo a review of their human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing its fourth review, following the third in 2018. Last week in Geneva, a government delegation received recommendations and responded to questions. Saudi Arabia will either support or note the recommendations, and the Human Rights Council will adopt the outcome report in June.
Since its last review in 2018, Saudi Arabia has failed to implement numerous recommendations it supported, including aligning counterterrorism and cybercrime laws with international standards, guaranteeing rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, releasing human rights defenders, ensuring due process and fair trials, and protecting workers from abuse.
In its July 2023 submission to the UPR, rights groups raised concerns about the escalating crackdown on freedom of expression, increased use of counterterrorism and cybercrime laws, prosecution of women human rights defenders, due process violations, rising executions, codification of discrimination against women, arbitrary detention, forcible deportation of migrant workers, forced evictions in Jeddah, and violations by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Despite some positive impact on women’s rights and freedom of movement, reforms did not entirely eliminate the male guardianship system in line with supported recommendations.