Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Saudis freer but rights not institutionalised: HRW

Memo to Saudi women ~ from the King ~ please wear your best black.

When I think of Saudis and free ~ the camel and the eye of a needle come to mind. Its a tight squeeze. So what else is new. Saudis still can't criticize Islam/ Wahabist Islam. They have a university where girls and guys are allowed to sit in the 'same' class ~ but that needs a military barrier around it so it won't come under attack ~ call that a bastion of freedom within Arabia. They sensibly put down a law or the proposal for a law ~ straight out of the bowels of the hadiths, which called for Saudi women to breastfeed grown men as a way to get around the strict male and female ~ in one another's company laws. After that was shut down ~ the cleric was accused of making 'careless' fatwas. However it does show you how vulnerable Saudi women are ~ to the whims of their men folk and long forgotten Islamic laws. The idea that a women could be ordered to breastfeed / do with her body what might be against her will ~ shows you where they are on freedom for women. A Sri Lankan maid had to be liberated from her Saudi employers who shot/drilled dozens of nails into her body, likely with a nail gun. The idea of the infidel /slave still lives on, of which they believe they have total right over. There was another case of a Saudi women who went to visit her son, after a divorce [read: no rights], and on her way home, asked for a lift to the bus stop from a man and his family. Instead the man took her to the police station and told them she was a 'runaway'. A runaway woman! And the police seized upon the opportunity ~ gave the man his 'reward' money ~ then proceeded to beat the woman. Only because her screams could be heard by the men praying next door ~ were the [Islamic] police accused of doing anything wrong ~ and for the first time, may have been held to account [but don't hold your breath!].

Saying that Saudi Arabia is freer is probably just being kind. In the interests of full accountability Human Rights Watch visited Saudi Arabia to raise money. For many it was a lapse in judgement. But the Saudis are people too and the deserve to have their human rights respected, but also they should understand that they must respect the rights of others. Islam is second place here. Otherwise it becomes a means to repress.

NEW YORK (AFP)— Saudis have become freer in the five years of King Abdullah's reign but civil rights remain far from institutionalised and vulnerable to political change, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

In its annual report on Saudi Arabia, the New York-based rights watchdog underscored the "looser reign" of the 86-year-old Abdullah, but warned that reform gains could disappear in the future.
"Should his enthusiasm for reform wane, or successors tread more conservative paths, his legacy would be one of a brief respite of fresh air, but not one of institutional reform," the report said of Abdullah.

The king's reforms have loosened some restrictions on women, boosted a sense of fairness in the Islamic Sharia-based judicial system, and increased freedom of expression in the ultra-conservative Gulf monarchy, HRW said.

However, non-Muslims still cannot practice their religion openly and minority Shiites are actively discriminated against in the majority-Sunni country, despite Abdullah's own interfaith relations initiative, it said.

It added that more than eight million migrant workers and their families in the country continue to be denied basic rights.

"The king is laying down markers but not going the one step further to build institutions for this," said Christoph Wilcke, the principal author of the report.

"There is a growing awareness... that this is a king with a reform agenda," he told reporters in Riyadh in a conference call.

However, he added: "The deeper I dug the less concrete reform I found."

Wilcke said Abdullah has set an atmosphere for fewer restrictions on women, including allowing them to move about with less concern of being hassled by the fearsome religious police.

Nevertheless, women are still not allowed to drive and must obtain written permission of their male guardians in order to travel.

The report noted that Abdullah launched important structural reforms of the judiciary, with more training, and specialised courts, but said "implementation of these proposals has been halting at best."

The Sharia-based law has not been codified, Wilcke points out.

For that reason "in Saudi Arabia, it is up to the judge alone to determine what is a crime," he said.

Moreover, trials last year of 331 suspects accused of Al-Qaeda membership "failed to meet basic standards of fairness," with summary hearings in secret processing all the cases, according to the report.

The report noted that Abdullah's reign ushered an environment for criticism of the government and a greater consciousness of justice and fairness in the people.

"Saudis today are freer to criticize their government, both in media and in public," the report says.

However, "red lines -- largely arbitrary -- remain," it adds.

Those red lines include criticisms of the ruling Al-Saud royal family, and of the country's conservative Wahhabist brand of Islam.

In May, the editor of the popular Al-Watan newspaper was forced to resign after it published a column questioning Wahhabist orthodoxy.

And earlier this month the director general of Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television was also forced to submit his resignation after the station broadcast a foreign documentary that criticised Wahhabism.

HRW said no progress has been made on the rights of the huge foreign workforce on which Saudi Arabia depends.

Foreign workers must have a sponsor who controls the employee's passport and can prevent the worker from seeking another job or sponsor. The system results in frequent abuses and rights groups have compared it to slavery.

The gains of the past five years are vulnerable to whomever succeeds King Abdullah, according to Wilcke. The king's designated successor, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, has struggled with cancer for the past two years.

Among Sultan and other top princes, Wilcke said, "none of them seem to have the same level of reformist spirit as King Abdullah."

HRW urged the Saudi government to take "often simple measures" to institutionalise rights, like implementing foreign worker protection legislation already crafted two years ago; pushing ahead with legal reforms, including a reported plan to codify Sharia law; and holding violators of rights accountable.

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