UN Committee Raises Torture Concerns with Saudi Arabia

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) recently adopted its concluding observations on the second periodic report of Saudi Arabia. Although the Committee outlined some positive measures undertaken by the Government of Saudi Arabia, it devoted the vast majority of its report to areas of concern, casting aspersions over the government’s will and ability to effectively implement the treaty’s human rights requirements.

The Committee began by thanking Saudi Arabia for its report despite acknowledging the submission was over ten years overdue. It continued by briefly noting some positive measures Saudi Arabia has taken in recent years. The government acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 as well as other optional protocols throughout the decade. Saudi Arabia implemented the National Family Safety Program and a hotline for victims of domestic violence. It also established the Human Rights Commission and the National Society for Human Rights, as well as set up the Nafethah website allowing the tracking of detained persons.

Continuing its observations, the Committee extendedly recognized areas of concern. Many of the CAT’s concerns related to the state’s use of torture. The CAT noted the absence of a definition of torture in the law. Ongoing failure to prosecute perpetrators of torture, continued imposition of corporal punishments, and failure to provide legal safeguards against torture were also among the Committee’s reservations. The CAT also advocated for extended medical trainings for examining signs of torture.

The CAT was concerned with rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Counter-terrorism laws and reprisals against HRDs and journalists act to constrict these freedoms. It noted that the National Human Rights Commission does not currently comply with the Paris Principles and that a lack of an independent complaints mechanism hinders its efficiency.

The Committee highlighted the lack of independence of the judiciary and the conditions of detention. The CAT made specific mention of:

  • Coerced confessions being considered admissible evidence in courts;
  • The conditions at Al-Mahabith detention facilities and other prisons;
  • The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice;
  • The state inhibiting the religious practice of Shia and non-muslims in detention;
  • The existence of secret places of detention;
  • The lack of independent prison visits; and
  • The lack of an independent complaints mechanism for detainees.

To humanize its concerns, the CAT raised the following cases of individuals believed to have been tortured by the government:

  • Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Raif Badawi;
  • Mohammed Salah Al-Bjadi;
  • Alaa Brinji, Abdulkareem Al-Khoder;
  • Fadel Al-Manasef, Ali Al-Nimr;
  • Dawoud Al-Marhoon;
  • Abdullah Al-Zaher;
  • Omar Al-Said;
  • Abdulaziz Al-Shobaily;
  • Saud Mukhtar Al-Hashimi; AND
  • Sulaiman Al-Rashoudi.

Finally, the committee emphasized concerns on the male guardianship and domestic violence, the treatment of migrant workers and the existence of human trafficking, and non-refoulement of refugees. The committee also stressed its regrets regarding the continued use of the death penalty and increased executions, as well as the lack of redress and rehabilitation for proven torture victims.
To read the full report, click here.