Monday, March 11, 2013

11-Mar-13: Know the neighbours: Saudi Arabia

Traditional cultural figures? Saudi law enforcement
officials? Both? [Image Source]
A recent report about the jailing of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia got us thinking about what sort of country it really is. So allow us to share some of what we found in a brief hunt on the web.
  • First, regarding those activists. This past weekend, the two founders of an organization called ACPRA, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, that documents human rights abuses, were sentenced 10 years in prison "at least", by a Saudi Arabian court [source]. On what grounds? Sedition and providing foreign media with false information. The CSM report says "Acpra has called for a constitutional monarchy and elections, which could be viewed as threats to the power of the Saudi royal family." The immediate trigger seems to have been their call for Abdullah, the current 'king', to fire 'Crown Prince' Nayef on the grounds that he failed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by the Interior Ministry which he headed until his death in 2012. 
  • Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, one of the two freshly-convicted offenders is a professor of economics and "one of the most outspoken human rights activists in the deeply conservative country. Qahtani believes Saudis must demand their rights, and that speaking up and demanding a stronger rule of law is a moral responsibility..." He is quoted making the following outrageous and seditious demand: “Our goal is to reach a situation where the regime is bound by its own law." Imagine! Clearly, someone not to be allowed to roam the streets of the desert kingdom.
  • Still, the prisoners can be grateful that their punishment is merely ten years of prison ("at least"). How much worse might it have been? According to Wikipedia, the Saudis impose the death penalty on those found guilty of the following (in alphabetical order): adultery (but unmarried adulterers only get 100 lashes), apostasy, armed robbery, blasphemy, carjacking, drug smuggling, fornication, home invasion, homosexuality, idolatry, murder, prostitution, rape, sedition, sexual misconduct, sorcery, terrorism, theft (on the fourth conviction), treason, waging war on god, witchcraft.
  • Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. British exports there amounted to £3.1 billion in 2010. Beginning tomorrow, Prince Charles and his wife are gracing the country with their presence on a royal tour [source]. Amnesty International has been turning to the media this week to persuade the royals to take account before they go there of how Saudi Arabia has the highest execution rate in the world and bans protest or criticism. "Torture – such as beatings, electrocution and suspension from the ceiling by ankles or wrists – is rife, unfair trials commonplace and women face severe discrimination." But - you know -  £3.1 billion... 
  • The princely couple might answer back that Saudi Arabia is taking baby steps towards becoming a better place. For example, the Saudis are now "looking into the possibility of implementing executions by shooting and not decapitation", according to a report yesterday in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm. That article fails, however, to name one of the main reasons for the proposed change: a shortage of swords-persons [source]. 
  • Those decapitations have an additional horrifying dimension which may or not be reformed: they are carried out in public, in a square in the heart of Riyadh. 15 people have been executed that way so far this year; 76 last year and 79 in 2011 [source]. 
  • As of January 2013, there are more than 45 foreign maids on death row in Saudi Arabia awaiting execution. Rizana Nafeek was one of them until January 9, 2013; that's when she was publicly beheaded. She was an impoverished Sri Lankan maid who arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2005 at the age of 17 to work as a domestic helper. Soon after, her employer's four-month-old child died while in the maid's care, and she was charged with murder. The maid said the baby had choked on a bottle during feeding. We will never know who is telling the truth since the police failed to take the dead infant for a postmortem to determine the cause of death. But we do know Rizana's cause of death because a huge crowd watched it happen. [Details from Wikipedia]
  • The Saudis also carry out state-sanctioned executions by means of crucifixion; it's a current ongoing actual practice [source] and there are no announced plans to discontinue it. Nor are they planning to discontinue stoning, amputation or lashing [Wikipedia]. 
  • On the more positive side, the Saudis seem to have a sort of official sense of humour. Or at minimum, a cynical streak. How else to explain that they signed on to four UN human rights conventions during the 1990s and then in 2004 created a body called the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) to implement those obligations? OK, so it is manned by government employees and has engaged in "limited" activities and [ahem) there are some "doubts" "over its neutrality and independence" [source] but these are mere details. 
  • Eight countries failed to accept the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was created in 1948, and the Saudis were of course among them [source]; they are said to be the only 'state' opposed to the Declaration [source] today. For its part, the government of Saudi Arabia says [here] "the special Islamic character of the country" "justifies a different social and political order".
  • A sidenote, but not entirely irrelevant: As of 2010 [source], Israel had been condemned in 32 resolutions adopted by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council since its creation in 2006; that amounts to 48% of all country-specific resolutions passed by the Council, one of whose members in good standing is, of course, Saudi Arabia. And what, you may ask, are the qualifications for membership on the Council? According to "The Real Rules of the U.N. Human Rights Council", "though seats on the Human Rights Council are open to all U.N. member states, the countries electing representatives should take into account, along with countries’ pledges of good behavior, “the contribution of the candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” Further, the General Assembly may, by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, suspend any member of the council “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights” [Source: Claudia Rosett in National Review, September 2012]. Nice rules, but Saudi Arabia has "sat comfortably and entirely unsuspended on the council for years". 
From today's Saudi Gazette
Now, changing the subject entirely, we will devote a few moments to how Washington, and particularly the US government's law enforcement experts, view Saudi Arabia in light of the mortal threats constituted by Islamist terror. 

The following comes from today's edition of Saudi Gazette:
RIYADH – US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has shown interest in examining the Saudi Munasaha (Counseling) counter-terrorism program so as to apply it in the United States. “Too many of our young people are disaffected and attracted to violent ideologies and so we want to work with our Saudi allies and examine the program and see how we might apply that in the United States,” he told a press conference at the US Embassy here Sunday. “I’m more concerned about the threat from inside the US and people who turn to violent extremism,” he said, underscoring the importance of cooperation with the Saudi government to ensure the safety of both nations“We must work together, as equal partners, with a shared commitment to pursuing a world with more opportunity and less violence.” The press conference was held as part of Holder’s diplomatic visit to the Kingdom. “During this visit to Riyadh, I have had discussions with our Saudi partners about our joint programs to promote the rule of law and protect the rights and interests of our citizens,” he said. Holder also expressed his enthusiasm for building programs supporting the Kingdom’s enactment of legal reforms and the continued dialogue between the two nations on the subjects of judicial and legal progress. I’ve also been impressed by the Justice Minister’s efforts with regard to the justice system here in this great nation. We have exchanged ideas and thoughts,” he continued, “and my hopes would be that some of the things we’ve tried in the United States may be useful here in Saudi Arabia and some of the ideas that the Justice Minister shared with me, I think, will be productive in the United States as well.”... Attorney General Holder’s visit to Riyadh is part of an on-going Saudi-US program on judicial reform and peacekeeping, which started with the Saudi Minister of Justice Dr. Mohammed Bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa’s visit to Washington last year... [Saudi Gazette]
We're wide open to suggestions as to how interpret all of this. But in the meantime, can someone tell us what, in the name of everything decent, the attorney general of the United States of America can learn from the Saudis? 

No comments: