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40 NGOs call on HRC to take action on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses (Demo)

This statement was originally published on on 25 June 2019.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), along with 39 other NGOs, signed onto a joint letter to 48 missions and the EU mission in Geneva in regards to the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and calling on states to initiate Human Rights Council action by presenting a resolution at the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The letter specifically highlights the recent mass executions of 37 men in April, the arbitrary arrest and torture of women’s rights activists, and the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi as well as the impunity surrounding these human rights abuses. In addition to calling upon the Human Rights Council to establish a monitoring mechanism, it urges the Saudi government to release arbitrarily detained women’s rights defenders, abolish the male guardianship system, protect freedom of speech, and properly investigate and prosecute allegations of torture. Find the pdf in English here or in Arabic here.

Your Excellency,

We remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, in particular the recent mass executions of 37 men on 23 April, the continued arbitrary detention of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders and the ongoing impunity for serious human rights violations, including torture. 

We welcome the joint statement signed by 36 states during the 40th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) calling, inter alia, for the release of detained women human rights defenders. We urge you to build on this statement by advancing a HRC resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them, including those provisionally released.

Since the 7 March joint statement at the HRC, several of the ten women human rights defenders named in the statement were referred to trial after almost ten months of detention without a charge, and seven have been provisionally released. Their release demonstrates that HRC scrutiny can contribute to positive human rights outcomes on the ground, particularly with respect to the cases of detained women human rights defenders. However, they are still facing trial, the human rights situation on the ground has deteriorated markedly on other fronts, including through increased use of the death penalty and the authorities’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression.

For this scrutiny to remain effective, it must be sustained. This is particularly the case where the State concerned fails to respond positively to calls by the HRC, the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures, and treaty bodies whose recommendations are directed at remedying violations of Saudi Arabia’s international human rights law obligations.

Sixteen out of the 37 men recently executed were previously the subjects of communications from UN bodies which indicated that some were minors when they allegedly carried out their crimes.  Many of the men executed had been tortured into confessing and were tried in the counter-terrorism Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), in trials that did not conform to international standards of fair trials and due process. At least 20 detainees are at risk of executions, including 3 minors. 

In addition to the recent executions, we remain deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of women’s rights defenders since mid-May 2018, the lack of any credible and effective investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment against them and that those who have been brought to court are facing unfair trials. We are further alarmed by the latest wave of arrests in April 2019 of at least fourteen bloggers, writers and family members of women human rights defenders, reportedly targeting those supporting the women’s rights movement and detained activists. 

Saudi Arabia has faced increased criticism over its human rights record since the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in October 2018, but authorities have failed to provide transparency into the criminal proceedings against 11 individuals currently on trial for his murder and appear to be shielding high-level current and former officials implicated in the murder from additional scrutiny. 

Saudi Arabia, as a member of the UN HRC, is obligated to uphold the highest standards for the promotion and protection of human rights and to cooperate fully with the Council’s mechanisms. Yet, the government has failed to take meaningful steps to uphold its membership obligations. The rights situation continues to deteriorate, and the government has refused to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in her inquiry into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The recent executions and the detention and torture of activists are not isolated cases but rather form part of a pattern of gross and systematic rights violations, including discrimination against women and a de facto ban on civic space. 

In light of the above, we urge your government to initiate Council action by presenting a resolution at the HRC to:

  • Establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country;  

and call on the Saudi government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release the detained women human rights defenders and all individuals detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms, drop all charges against them including those provisionally released, and remove travel bans against their family members;
  • Conduct prompt, effective and credible investigations into all allegations of torture, hold perpetrators accountable and provide victims with effective remedy in line with international standards; 
  • Immediately abolish the male guardianship system and repeal other laws that discriminate against women and girls;
  • Establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty with an aim towards its abolition;
  • Ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are fully respected in law and practice in accordance with international human rights standards.

The landmark joint statement delivered during the 40th session of the HRC signified that no State is above scrutiny for its human rights record. We recognise it as a first step towards more sustained and dedicated review by the HRC in its efforts to hold its members accountable. It is imperative that the Council continues to engage with Saudi Arabia so as to ensure that prompt and effective measures are taken to address the ongoing human rights violations in the country. 

Please rest assured, your Excellency, of our highest consideration.


  1. Article19 
  2. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  3. ALQST
  4. Amnesty International 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
  8. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  9. English PEN
  10. European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  11. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  12. Equality Now!
  13. FIDH 
  14. Gulf Center for Human Rights 
  15. Humanists International
  16. Human Rights Watch
  17. Innovation for Change-MENA Hub
  18. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  19. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada
  20. L’Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD)
  21. ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) – France
  22. The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Woman (LECORVAW)
  23. The Right Livelihood Award Foundation
  24. The Committee for the Respect of Freedom and Human Rights in Tunisia
  25. The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
  26. The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Academic Values
  27. The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Rights
  28. The Tunis Center for Press Freedom
  29. The Tunisian Coalition Against Death Penalty
  30. The Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights
  31. The Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities
  32. MENA Rights Group
  33. PEN International
  34. Scholars at Risk
  35. The Tunisian Organization Against Torture
  36. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  37. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
  38. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) 
  39. Women’s March Global 
  40. Women Human Rights Defenders MENA Coalition 

The post 40 NGOs call on HRC to take action on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses appeared first on IFEX.


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