Universal Periodic Review on Saudi Arabia, May 2024

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record continues to be deeply concerning. This report includes the four most alarming points at present in Saudi Arabia;  including the killing of migrants, repression of dissidents and systemic discrimination against women. The following sectors covered by this report violate international Human Rights standards and demand urgent attention.

  • Criminal Justice, Arbitrary Arrests and Repression of Dissidents

Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system lacks transparency and fairness, which has a detrimental effect on the safeguarding of human rights. The country’s criminal justice system is ruled by ambiguity1, lacking written laws and granting a degree of autonomy to judges.

The misuse of vague provisions of the law also impacts cybercrime, allowing online activities to be deemed contrary to public order or other lax terminology, and being criminalised.

Trials in Saudi Arabia often fail to meet international standards of fairness. Convictions are reportedly handed down based on coerced confessions and evidence obtained through torture. Particularly prevalent in cases of political dissent, freedom of expression or association. Saudi authorities have detained peaceful dissidents, intellectuals and activists and sentenced them to decade-long terms or death2, for their posts on social media. Furthermore, the abuse of “catch-all” charges violates human rights. “Catch-all” sentences, such as the terrorism penalty3, allow for the criminalisation of peaceful opposition and the defence of human rights.

Extraditions to Saudi Arabia often result in arbitrary detention and unfair trials, with a high risk of torture for the detainees. The mistreatment of detainees, from solitary confinement to incommunicado detention, further violates their right to a fair trial and their human dignity. Such practices highlight the urgent need for reforms to ensure that the criminal justice system complies with international human rights standards and safeguards the rights of all individuals.

  • Death Penalty

In 2024, Saudi Arabia continues to impose and carry out death sentences. They can be handed down for different crimes, including non-violent ones, which contradicts international standards that reserve the death penalty for the most severe cases.

Hussein Abu al-Khair4 was executed in March 2023. He received the sentence for a drug offence, and after a trial in which he denounced the use of torture to obtain a coerced confession. His execution highlights the continued use of capital punishment despite international protests.

The death penalty is also applied to individuals who were minors when they committed the alleged crimes, even when the Saudi Human Rights Commission5 has assured that the death penalty would have no repercussions on minors. Cases such as Jalal Labbad6 are still at risk of imminent execution right now, after Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court secretly upheld his sentence.

Execution sentenced by the Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system is also at risk of having been handed down in irregular trials. These practices reflect a broader pattern of human rights abuses, in which defendants are denied fair processes and could be victims of torture and harsh sentences for non-violent crimes.

This penalty, not reserved for the most severe crimes, is also handed down in freedom of expression related crimes. In July of 2023, Muhammad al-Ghamdi7, a retired professor, was sentenced to death for his peaceful activity on the Internet. Convicted under Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism law, this case exemplifies the extreme measures taken to repress dissent.

In spite of  international pressure, Saudi Arabia continues applying capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including activities preserved by international human rights standards. The continued executions of individuals following unfair trials call for urgent international scrutiny and action to uphold human rights in Saudi Arabia.

  • Migrants and Detention Centres

Saudi Arabia’s treatment of migrants is a human rights concern. The crackdown by the Saudi authorities on individuals accused of violating residency, border or labor regulations has resulted in many arbitrary arrests and deportations.

There have been reports of Saudi border guards using explosive weapons and shooting migrants at close range. Attacks directed against the migrant population attempting to enter the country. These actions, reported over the past year, have resulted in hundreds of deaths and serious human rights violations. Human Rights Watch 8has noted that these attacks may appear to be systematic and deliberate, raising the alarm of human rights violations. According to reports9, there were risks for migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach the country through Yemen. Saudi artillery and sniper fire on the Yemeni border resulted in at least 794 deaths and 1,703 injuries in 2022.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s migrant detention centers also become a point of interest when assessing the quality of human rights. Harsh conditions characterize these centers10. Migrants and asylum seekers often suffer prolonged and arbitrary detention without access to legal recourse. Detention conditions are appalling; inadequate food, poor water quality and lack of hygiene encourage the spread of disease. There are reports of abuses and deaths at the hands of detention center officials, which is a blatant violation of human rights.

In addition, the kafala system in place in Saudi Arabia also encourages the exploitation of migrant workers. Despite recent reforms, the system remains one of the strictest11, giving employers excessive control over the mobility and legal status of their migrant workers. This imbalance of power leads to situations of abuse, such as passport confiscation, wage delays and forced labor.

  • Women’s Rights and Guardianship System

Saudi women are violated and suffer significant discrimination, both in law and in practice

Despite the introduction of the Personal Status Law in 202212, Saudi women continue to suffer significant discrimination, both in law and in practice.  This law has codified male guardianship, formalizing a tradition that undermines women’s rights and perpetuates systemic inequalities across Saudi society.

Under the Personal Status Law, fathers are appointed guardians of their children by default. Mothers are still granted custody in the case of separation, but the child’s legal guardian is always the father’s role.  This law does not safeguard the interests of the child, and usually disregards them, limiting the mother’s role when it comes to making binding decisions in her children’s lives. Limiting the mother’s influence on their children’s social and economic well-being, disregarding her and her child’s rights.

The Law perpetuates gender discrimination13 when it comes to divorce. It limits a woman’s freedom to divorce, requiring must prove harm that makes continuation of the marriage impossible. This law is also ambiguous and does not specify what constitutes “harm” or what evidence is admissible, leaving the law up to the judge’s discretion.

Women’s rights activism in Saudi Arabia is being targeted by local authorities14. Saudi Arabian campaigners for women’s rights are subjected to harsh persecution, and harsher sentences of charges that include peaceful activism as a form of terrorism. Women’s rights and freedoms are still severely restricted by Saudi Arabia’s overall legislative structure, even with minor advances like permitting women to drive and expanding employment prospects. Protecting the rights of all women in the kingdom and ensuring gender equality requires comprehensive reforms that tackle these fundamental issues.

  •  Recommendations
  1. The immediate release of all persons detained for exercising their right of expression. And the establishment of a transparent legal code that adheres to international Human Rights standards.
  2. The reservation of this penalty for the most severe crimes. And the suspension of the execution of those convicted of crimes committed when they were minors.
  3. To immediately revoke any policy to deliberately use lethal force on migrants and asylum seekers. To improve the conditions in migrant detention centers.
  4. To update the Personal Status Law to ensure the end of  discrimination against women


  1. World Report 2024: Saudi Arabia. (2024). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2024/country-chapters/saudi-arabia
  2. Amnesty International. (2023). Human Rights in Saudi Arabia 2023. https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and-north-africa/middle-east/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/
  3. Ibid.
  4. Amnesty International. (2023). Human Rights in Saudi Arabia 2023. https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and-north-africa/middle-east/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/
  5. Amnesty International. (2024). Saudi Arabia: Two young men at imminent risk of execution: Abdullah al-Derazi, Jalal Labbad – Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde23/7363/2023/en/
  6. Ibid.
  7. Amnesty International. (2023). Human Rights in Saudi Arabia 2023. https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and-north-africa/middle-east/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/
  8. Hardman, N. (2023). “They Fired on Us Like Rain”. En Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/report/2023/08/21/they-fired-us-rain/saudi-arabian-mass-killings-ethiopian-migrants-yemen-saudi
  9. 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Saudi Arabia. (2024, abril). United States Department Of State.
  10. Ibid.
  11. World Report 2024: Saudi Arabia. (2024). Human Rights Watch.  https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2024/country-chapters/saudi-arabia
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Amnesty International UK. (2023). Saudi Arabia: dramatic escalation in jailings for online dissent in past year. https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/saudi-arabia-dramatic-escalation-jailings-online-dissent-past-year