Profiles in Persecution – International Women’s Day: Amnah AlJuaid

Amnah AlJuaid is a 27-year-old Saudi citizen who was kidnapped and abused by her own father, Mohammed AlJuaid. A video in which she asked for help to escape from her father’s violence went viral online in 2017, and her case has been addressed by the Special Procedures offices of the UN Human Rights Council. On International Women’s Day, ADHRB highlights her case as an example of the systemic discrimination that Saudi women face.

Amnah was subjected to physical and emotional abuse at home, perpetrated by both her father and her brother. She was forced to leave her job and withdraw from her university. She was also forced to marry her paternal cousin, and her father attempted to keep Amnah confined in the family home. Her father also took Amnah’s passport so that she would not be able to leave Saudi Arabia as she had planned.

No options were available for Amnah except confronting her father under Saudi domestic law. However, Saudi law enshrines the male guardianship system, giving men complete control over women’s lives. If Amnah petitioned the court to emancipate herself from her father, she would be sent to a women’s reformatory (Arabic: dār ri‘āyah), which are effectively prisons. Once in a dār ri‘āyah, a woman cannot be released without the consent of a male guardian (Arabic: walī amr).

Under Saudi’s 2013 law on domestic violence, family abduction is not a punishable crime. On the contrary, male guardians can raise charges against female family members for acts of “disobedience” (al-‘uqūq), the punishment for which can include imprisonment. Women also must access the legal justice system through their male guardian, which creates a barrier to effective and safe reporting of abuse.

Faced with these circumstances, Amnah ran away from home in 2016 and took shelter with a friend. Her father informed the police that she was missing and hired a private detective to track her down. Her father also harassed Amnah’s friends, demanding information on her whereabouts. Saudi authorities ultimately even detained some of her friends for questioning.

On 25 October 2017, a pre-recorded video was posted on Amnah’s personal Twitter account. She said that if the video had been posted, it meant that she had been harmed or kidnapped by her father. Amnah’s friends posted the video in in accordance with a prior agreement in the event of her disappearance.

ADHRB and the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) raised her complaint to the Special Procedures offices of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice raised her case with the Saudi government in November 2017, noting their grave concern over her particular case, and expressing their disappointment that the discriminatory male guardianship system persists in Saudi Arabia, despite the government’s pledges to abolish it. In Saudi Arabia’s response, the government stated that her family submitted a communication to the government after she ran away. In response, the Saudi government placed Amnah in the Girls’ Welfare Foundation and sent her to the Public Prosecution Service for questioning. She was eventually released, and the government gave her the option of either returning to her home or remaining in a social protection unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development (no other option was permitted). She remains in the protection unit to this day.

Through its ratification to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Saudi Arabia has an obligation to take action to end all forms of discrimination against women. On International Women’s Day, ADHRB calls upon Saudi Arabia to abolish the discriminatory male guardianship system, and to ensure that Saudi domestic law protects women’s internationally recognized human rights in an equal and nondiscriminatory manner. We additionally urge the authorities to investigate all abuses perpetrated by Amnah’s father and brother and to hold them accountable for their actions.