Saudi Arabia's Rights Record Scrutinized

Dateline: 5/14/00

Map of the Middle East"These [prisoners] have nowhere to go, nobody to turn to. If only the world knew what goes on in this country." —From a letter to Amnesty International from a former prisoner in Saudi Arabia.

Citing key defects in Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system, Amnesty International has released the second report in its campaign to end human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The report, "A Justice System without Justice," was released at a U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on abuses in Saudi Arabia. The first report, "A Secret State of Suffering," was released this last March.

According to the report:

In response to Amnesty International’s campaign, U.S. Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA), John Porter (R-IL) and Robin Hayes (R-NC) are collecting congressional signatures on a joint letter to the Government of Saudi Arabia. The letter calls on Saudi Arabia to enact judicial reform and investigate the case of Hayes’ constituent Mr. Stanley Kizzie, an American imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for five months in 1999 without charge or trial. Amnesty International is also calling on the U.S. Congress to formally note the dire human rights situation in Saudi Arabia as part of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Report.

Human Rights and Saudi Arabia

Since Amnesty International launched its campaign in March, there have been nearly 3 dozens executions—7 of which just took place on May 13. The country has also carried out a number of amputations.  Despite these continuing abuses, Amnesty International notes that Saudi Arabia was voted a seat on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights this year.

"Membership in international bodies such as the UNCHR does not absolve Saudi Arabia from scrutiny of its human rights record, but rather intensify its obligations to meet international human rights standards," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of AIUSA. "Saudi Arabia must respond to the specific cases we cite and not hide behind lofty declarations." [Read the full statement.]

Since the release of the first report in March, the government has made commitments to take steps to promote and protect human rights. In addition, Saudi Arabia's national and international media have initiated a debate on human rights issues. But, contrary to public statements by Saudi Arabian officials, Amnesty International has neither received an invitation to visit the country nor received approval of pending visa applications to undertake a fact-finding mission following the release of its first report.

Muhammad al-Hayek: Death in Custody

Amnesty International is highlighting eight cases in its current campaign focusing on human rights in Saudi Arabia.  The following summarizes the case of Muhammad al-Hayek. Learn more about Amnesty International's other concerns at their web site.

Muhammad al-Hayek, a 29-year-old Saudi Arabian, was arrested in 1996 and detained for more than two years without charge or trial. He died in June 1998 in circumstances that suggest that he may have been tortured to death. Relatives were only informed of his death the following month by members of Saudi Arabia's General Investigations Department. The family was not allowed to collect the body and was told that it had already been buried at an undisclosed location.

Amnesty International believes that Muhammad al-Hayek arrest may have been connected to his religious practices. Members of the Shi'a Muslim community in Saudi Arabia, less than 10 precent of the population, suffer political, social, cultural as well as religious discrimination. Shi'a Muslims are prevented by fear of prosecution from practising their faith openly.

According to Amnesty International, no official public investigation has been conducted into the cause of Muhammad al-Hayek's death. His relatives have never been provided with an explanation.



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