A Conclusion For Human Rights Saudi Arabia

Background of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

Since it established its modern form in 1932, Saudi Arabia has long been viewed as a conservative, restrictive nation in terms of human rights. Despite the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that the nation follows, there have been several attempts since the 1980s to introduce more progressive interpretations of human rights. During this period, the country was pressed by international opinion and the global human rights lobby to improve its human rights record, although measures such as allowing public gatherings and demonstrations, or introducing greater freedom of expression and of the press were still not possible.

In 2009, Saudi Arabia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is supposed to create a legal framework – under international humanitarian law – for a government to protect the rights of its citizens. Since ratification, the Saudi government has introduced several initiatives in order to fulfill its obligations under the covenant, including the establishment of human rights commissions, which are in charge of investigating alleged violations of human rights, as well as regulating the activities and behavior of public officials in order to prevent any violations.

Despite these initiatives, the situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia remains far from perfect. In recent years, there have been reports of alleged torture, arbitrary detention, political and religious repression, discrimination against women, and the death penalty. Moreover, there is a lack of civil liberties, and freedom of expression and association are limited. Furthermore, there is no adequate system of checks and balances in place to ensure that the rights of citizens are respected, and many of the initiatives that have been adopted have been imposed from above by the ruling regime, rather than implemented following popular demand.

Current Challenges in Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

The Human Rights Commission created by Saudi Arabia is headed by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and its powers are limited to oversight and investigation. Crucially, though, the commission lacks any form of enforcement power. Hence, it cannot sanction, investigate, or impose penalties on any public official who violates human rights laws.

Furthermore, the level of awareness of citizens concerning their human rights is not high. Most citizens are not aware of the basic freedoms and rights that are enshrined in international human rights law. Moreover, the Saudi government’s policies often do not take into account the welfare or human rights of its citizens, and instead prioritize economic stability, development, and maintaining the status quo.

In addition, although some progress has been made in terms of introducing more progressive interpretations of human rights law, the situation of women remains poor. Women are not allowed to travel or work without permission from a male guardian, and there are still restrictions on women’s rights to refuse a marriage, or to seek a divorce.

Lastly, while the media – both traditional and social – has made some limited progress in terms of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are still largely restricted. Therefore, citizens cannot effectively use the media to exercise their rights without facing severe repercussions.

External and International Pressure on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

International organizations and other nations around the world, such as the United Nations and the European Union, have put pressure on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record. The UN has regularly called on the nation to reconsider its restrictive laws and practices and to allow people to exercise their rights without fear or retribution.

The international pressure has been largely driven by human rights advocates and organizations, who have sought to draw attention to the plight of citizens in Saudi Arabia. For example, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, among others, have campaigned for better human rights protection for the nation’s citizens.

International organizations such as the European Union and the United States have also used economic pressure on Saudi Arabia, imposing economic sanctions or withholding aid, in order to encourage the nation to make significant improvements in its human rights record.

Moreover, the Saudi government has faced criticism from other member states in the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who have called on the nation to introduce more progressive interpretations of its laws, which would be more in line with international human rights standards.

Effects of the International Pressure

Despite the continued presence of many restrictions and limitations, progress has been made towards improving the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. The government has taken steps to reform the criminal justice system, and has established a human rights commission and a National Dialogue Center, aimed at promoting national dialogue, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression.

In addition, some limited progress has been made concerning the rights of women. For example, while the guardianship system remains in place, women are now allowed to drive, and the ability to travel without the permission of a male guardian has been significantly improved.

Similarly, the nation has also looked to improve its media landscape. Regulations have been relaxed, allowing the media to report more freely on some topics, although there are still some limits in place. In addition, the government has started working towards allowing the formation of independent civil society organizations, although restrictions remain.

Internal Pressure on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

In addition to the external pressure, many citizens living in Saudi Arabia are increasingly calling for more human rights protections. Over the last decade, there have been small protests and campaigns in which citizens have called for greater freedoms. For example, in 2012, a campaign called ‘My Right’ was launched, which sought to address some of the restrictions on their freedoms.

In addition, a greater emphasis has been placed on freedom of expression more recently, as a result of the government’s increased use of social media. This has allowed citizens to voice their concerns more easily, which has led to more outspoken debates among the population about the lack of human rights protections.

The increasing demand for greater freedoms has led to several reforms being introduced. For example, in 2015, the government introduced a new guarantee of freedom of expression, which promised not to punish citizens for peacefully expressing their opinions. Similarly, a law was introduced in 2016 which reduced the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16.


Overall, it is clear that there have been significant improvements in the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia in recent years. This has largely been driven by increased international pressure, as well as greater internal calls for democratic reforms. However, despite the progress that has been made, much more needs to be done in order to ensure that all citizens have access to their basic human rights.

Civil Liberties

The issue of civil liberties in Saudi Arabia is closely linked to the broader issue of human rights protection. Despite the government’s ratification of the ICCPR, civil liberties such as freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the right to assembly and association are still greatly restricted. In addition, there is a lack of an independent judiciary, which means that citizens have limited access to justice when their rights are violated by the state or public officials.

Furthermore, many of the laws that are in place, such as the counter-terrorism law, are often used to suppress political dissent and inflict harsh punishments on those who express their opinions freely. In addition, the government has sought to use the internet as a tool for surveillance and control, monitoring the activities of citizens online and censoring certain topics or websites. Finally, the government’s crackdown on activists and journalists has been a recurrent issue, with many dissidents facing imprisonment or even death.

Women’s Rights

Women’s rights are particularly limited in Saudi Arabia, due in part to the traditional interpretation of Islamic law, and also to the lack of legal protection and recourse for women. Despite recent reforms, such as the decision to allow women to drive, the situation of women remains poor. For example, there are still restrictions on women’s rights to enter into marriage or to seek a divorce, as well as on their rights to education and employment.

In addition, the guardianship system remains in place, meaning that women must obtain permission from their male guardian in order to travel, work, or marry. This system puts women in a significantly disadvantaged position compared to men, and limits their autonomy and freedom of movement. Finally, there is also the issue of gender-based discrimination, with women facing unequal treatment with respect to men in many aspects of society.

Death Penalty

The death penalty is still a legal punishment in Saudi Arabia, and is often imposed for relatively minor offences, such as adultery. In addition, it is often used in a discriminatory manner, with members of minority groups and individuals who express dissenting opinions being particularly prone to harsher punishments such as capital punishment. Furthermore, the accused often do not have access to adequate legal counsel or to due process guarantees.

The death penalty has also been extended to minors, although they are not subject to the same punishment as adults. Instead, their sentences are to be commuted to a lesser sentence, such as life imprisonment. However, in practice, this does not always happen, with minors often facing the same sentences and punishments as adults.

Finally, the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is particularly brutal, with beheadings being the most common form of execution. This has led to widespread condemnation from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, and has raised questions about the legality and morality of the practice.

Jose Richard

Jose M. Richard is a journalist and author based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Jose has written extensively on Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region. Jose is passionate about promoting understanding of the region and its people, and his work has been recognised with international awards.

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