Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy
without elected representative institutions
or political parties. It is ruled by King
Fahd bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, a son of King
Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, who unified the country
in the early 20th century. Since the death
of King Abd Al-Aziz, the King and Crown Prince
have been chosen from among his sons, who
themselves have had preponderant influence
in the choice. A 1992 royal decree reserves
for the King exclusive power to name the Crown
Prince. Crown Prince Abdullah has played an
increasing role in governance since King Fahd
suffered a stroke in 1995. The Government
has declared the Islamic holy book the Koran
and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad
to be the country's Constitution. The Government
bases its legitimacy on governance according
to the precepts of a rigorously conservative
form of Islam. Neither the Government nor
the society in general accepts the concept
of separation of religion and state. The Government
prohibits the establishment of political parties
and suppresses opposition views. In 1992 King
Fahd appointed a Consultative Council, or
Majlis Ash-Shura, and similar provincial assemblies.
The Majlis, a strictly advisory body, began
holding sessions in 1993 and was expanded
first in 1997 and again in May. The judiciary
is subject to influence by the executive branch
and members of the royal family.
The Government maintains control of the various security forces. Police
and border forces under the Ministry of Interior are responsible for
internal security. Also subordinate to the Ministry of Interior are
the Mubahith, or internal security force, and the elite special forces.
The Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, whose agents commonly
are known as Mutawwa'in, or religious police, is a semiautonomous agency
that enforces adherence to Islamic norms by monitoring public behavior.
The Crown Prince controls the National Guard. The Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister of Defense and Aviation, Prince Sultan, is responsible
for all the military forces. Members of the security forces committed
serious human rights abuses.
The population is approximately 22.1 million with a per capita gross
domestic product (GDP) of $7,564. The oil industry has been the basis
of the transformation of Saudi Arabia from a pastoral, agricultural,
and trading society to a rapidly urbanizing one, characterized by large-scale
infrastructure projects, an extensive social welfare system, and a labor
market comprised largely of foreign workers. Oil revenues account for
approximately 55 percent of the GDP and 80 percent of government income.
Agriculture accounts for only about 6 percent of GDP. Government spending,
including spending on the national airline, power, water, telephone,
education, and health services, accounts for 24 percent of GDP. About
40 percent of the economy is nominally private, and the Government is
promoting further privatization of the economy. In 1995 the Government
began an aggressive campaign to increase the number of Saudi nationals
represented in the public and private work forces.
The Government's human rights record remained poor. Citizens have neither
the right nor the legal means to change their government. Security forces
continued to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain
persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention. In addition there
were allegations that security forces committed torture. On October
1, the Council of Ministers approved a new law regarding punitive measures
that would forbid harming detainees and to allow those accused of crimes
to hire a lawyer or legal agent. The law became effective in November;
however, at year's end, there were no reports of its implementation.
Prolonged detention without charge is a problem. Security forces committed
such abuses, in contradiction to the law, but with the acquiescence
of the Government. The Mutawwa'in continued to intimidate, abuse, and
detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials are closed, and defendants
usually appear before judges without legal counsel. The Government infringes
on citizens' privacy rights. The Government prohibits or restricts freedom
of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.
However, during the year, the Government continued to tolerate a wider
range of debate and criticism in the press concerning domestic issues.
Other continuing problems included discrimination and violence against
women, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and strict
limitations on worker rights.
The Government views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole
source of guidance on human rights and disagrees with internationally
accepted definitions of human rights. However, in 2000 and during the
year, the Government initiated limited measures to participate in international
human rights mechanisms, such as its approval of the October legislation,
which the Government claimed would address some of its obligations under
the Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings
during the year.
The Government executed persons for criminal offenses after closed
trials in which forced confessions are common and few procedural safeguards
are provided (see Sections 1.c. and 1.e.).
The investigation of the 1996 Al-Khobar bombing, which killed 19 U.S.
servicemen, continued. The Government has not yet issued a report of
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Shar'ia (Islamic law) prohibits any judge from accepting a confession
obtained under duress; however, there were credible reports that the
authorities abused detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry
of Interior officials are responsible for most incidents of abuse of
prisoners, including beatings, whippings, sleep deprivation, and at
least three cases of drugging of foreign prisoners. In addition there
were allegations of torture, including allegations of beatings with
sticks, suspension from bars by handcuffs, and threats against family
members. Torture and abuse are used to obtain required confessions from
prisoners (see Section 1.e.). There were reports that in detention centers
some boys and young men were flogged, forced constantly to lie on hard
floors, deprived of sleep, and threatened with whipping and other abuse.
The Government has refused to recognize the mandate of the U.N. Committee
Against Torture to investigate alleged abuses, although it has invited
the committee to visit the country. However, the Government has pledged
to cooperate with U.N. human rights mechanisms and announced in 2000
the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of torture
pursuant to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and
Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (see Section
Although the Government asks for details of reports of torture and
other human rights abuses made by international human rights groups,
it does not permit international observers to investigate such reports;
however, it has invited observers from international human rights groups
to visit the country. The Government's reluctance to grant members of
diplomatic missions access to the Ministry of Interior detention facilities
or allow members of international human rights groups into the country
hinders efforts to confirm or discount reports of abuses. The Government's
past failure to criticize human rights abuses has contributed to the
public perception that security forces may commit abuses with impunity.
The Mutawwa'in continued to intimidate, harass, abuse, and detain citizens
and foreigners of both sexes. They also bring citizens to police for
detention. Throughout the year, both citizens and foreigners reported
incidents of intimidation, harassment, and detention by the Mutawwa'in
(see Sections 1.d. and 1.f.).
The Government punishes criminals according to its interpretation of
Shari'a. Punishments include flogging, amputation, and execution by
beheading, stoning, or firing squad. The authorities acknowledged 81
executions during the year. Executions were for murder, narcotics-related
offenses, rape, and armed robbery. In accordance with Shari'a, the authorities
may punish repeated thievery and other repeated offenses by amputation
of the right hand and left foot. Persons convicted of political or religious
crimes reportedly were flogged with a leather strap. Persons convicted
of less serious offenses, such as alcohol related offenses or being
alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite sex, sometimes
were punished by caning.
Prison and jail conditions vary throughout the Kingdom. Prisons reportedly
generally meet internationally accepted standards and allegedly provide
air-conditioned cells, good nutrition, regular exercise, and careful
patrolling by prison guards. Some police stations, deportation centers,
and jails, nonetheless, are overcrowded, unsanitary, and not air-conditioned.
Authorities generally allowed family members access to detainees, but
in some cases only after holding detainees for a significant period
Boards of Investigation and Public Prosecution, organized on a regional
basis, were established by King Fahd in 1993. The members of these boards
have the right to inspect prisons, review prisoners' files, and hear
their complaints. However, the Government does not permit human rights
monitors to visit prisons or jails. The Government does not allow impartial
observers of any type access to specialized Ministry of Interior prisons,
where persons accused of political subversion are detained.
Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) are present at the Rafha refugee camp, which houses former Iraqi
prisoners of war and civilians who fled Iraq following the Gulf War.
According to UNHCR officials, there was no systematic abuse of refugees
by camp guards. When isolated instances of abuse surfaced in the past,
the authorities were responsive and willing to investigate allegations
and reprimand or remove offending guards. The camp receives a high level
of material assistance and is generally comfortable and well run. The
Government previously confined refugees to the camp, except in the event
of approved emigration (see Section 2.d.); however, during the year,
refugees were permitted to visit the town of Rafha to shop.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest; however, the authorities at times
make arrests and detain persons without following explicit legal guidelines.
The Mutawwa'in generally are free to intimidate and bring to police
stations persons whom they accuse of committing "crimes of vice"
based on their own religious interpretations. There are few procedures
to safeguard against abuse, although the Government claims that it punishes
individual officers who violate regulations. There have been few publicized
cases of citizens successfully obtaining judicial redress for abuse
of the Government's power of arrest and detention; none were reported
during the year.
According to regulation, authorities may not detain suspects for longer
than 3 days before charging them. However, serious exceptions have been
reported. In practice persons are held weeks or months and sometimes
longer. The regulations also provide for bail for less serious crimes,
although authorities at times release detainees on the recognizance
of a patron or sponsoring employer without the payment of bail. If they
are not released, authorities typically detain accused persons for an
average of 2 months before sending the case to trial or, in the case
of some foreigners, summarily deporting them. There is no established
procedure providing detainees the right to inform their family of their
The Mutawwa'in have the authority to detain persons for no more than
24 hours for violations of the strict standards of proper dress and
behavior. In the past, they sometimes exceeded this limit before delivering
detainees to the police (see Section 1.f.). During the year, Mutawwa'in
reportedly in practice handed over detainees to police within the 24-hour
period; however, in some cases prisoners were held by police for longer
periods, depending on the offense. Current procedures require a police
officer to accompany the Mutawwa'in at the time of an arrest. Mutawwa'in
generally complied with this requirement. During the year, in the more
conservative Riyadh district, reports continued of Mutawwa'in accosting,
abusing, arresting, and detaining persons alleged to have violated dress
and behavior standards.
The Mutawwa'in reportedly detained young men for offenses that included
eating in restaurants with young women, making lewd remarks to women
in the shopping malls, or walking in groups through family-only sections
of shopping centers. Women of many nationalities were detained for actions
such as riding in a taxi with a man who was not their relative, appearing
with their heads uncovered in shopping malls, and eating in restaurants
with males who were not their relatives. Many such prisoners were held
for days, sometimes weeks, without officials notifying their families
or, in the case of foreigners, their embassies.
The Government continued to detain Christians, at times for holding
services and at times apparently arbitrarily (see Section 2.c.).
According to various reports, a number of Shi'a sheikhs (religious
leaders) were arrested and detained in 2000 and during the year (see
Political detainees who are arrested by the General Directorate of
Investigation (GDI), the Ministry of Interior's security service (Mubahith),
commonly are held incommunicado in special prisons during the initial
phase of an investigation, which may last weeks or months. The GDI allows
the detainees only limited contact with their families or lawyers. During
the year, foreigners detained by the GDI and under investigation were
held without legal counsel or family visitation.
The authorities may detain without charge persons who publicly criticize
the Government, or may charge them with attempting to destabilize the
Government (see Sections 2.a. and 3). On December 10 on the occasion
of Eid al-Fitr, the Government released by royal pardon 12,000 prisoners
serving time for minor offenses.
The Government continued to commit abuses against members of the Shi'a
minority. Since beginning the investigation of the 1996 bombing of the
U.S. military installation at Al-Khobar, in which a number of eastern
province Shi'a were arrested, authorities have detained, interrogated,
and confiscated the passports of a number of Shi'a Muslims. The Government
reportedly continued to detain an unknown number of Shi'a who were arrested
in the aftermath of the Al-Khobar bombing. Government security forces
reportedly arrest Shi'a based on the smallest suspicion, hold them in
custody for lengthy periods, and then release them without explanation.
There is no reliable information about the total number of political
The Government did not use forced exile; however, it previously has
revoked the citizenship of opponents of the Government who reside outside
the country (see Section 3).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The independence of the judiciary is prescribed by law and usually
is respected in practice; however, judges occasionally accede to the
influence of the executive branch, high-ranking members of the royal
family and their associates, who are not required to appear before the
courts. Judges are appointed by the Justice Ministry and confirmed by
the Royal Diwan (Royal Court). The Ministry exercises judicial, financial,
and administrative control of the courts. The Supreme Judicial Council,
whose members appointed by the King, may discipline or remove judges.
The legal system is based on Shari'a. Shari'a courts exercise jurisdiction
over common criminal cases and civil suits regarding marriage, divorce,
child custody, and inheritance. Such jurisdiction extends to non-Muslims
for crimes committed in the country. Shari'a courts base judgments largely
on their interpretation of the Koran and the Sunna. Cases involving
relatively small penalties are tried in Shari'a summary courts. More
serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari'a courts of common pleas. Appeals
from Shari'a courts are made to the courts of appeal.
Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the
Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized
administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement
of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.
The Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition
to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community. There is no
comparable right for non-Muslims or foreigners, whose cases are handled
in regular Shari'a courts.
The military justice system has jurisdiction over uniformed personnel
and civil servants that are charged with violations of military regulations.
The Minister of Defense and Aviation and the King review the decisions
The Supreme Judicial Council is not a court and may not reverse decisions
made by a court of appeals. However, the Council may review lower court
decisions and refer them back to the lower court for reconsideration
The Council of Senior Religious Scholars is an autonomous body of 20
senior religious jurists, including the Minister of Justice. It establishes
the legal principles to guide lower-court judges in deciding cases.
In November a law became effective that provided persons under investigation
with the right to a lawyer during investigation and trial; however,
the new law has not yet been observed in practice. Previous law did
not provide the defendant with the right to have a lawyer present in
court. Defendants in most cases continue to appear without an attorney
before a judge, who determines guilt or innocence in accordance with
Shari'a standards. The law does not provide defendants with the right
to a translator. The courts generally do not provide foreign defendants
with translators. Defense lawyers may offer their clients advice before
trial or may attend the trial as interpreters for those unfamiliar with
Arabic. Public defenders are not provided. Individuals may choose any
person to represent them by a power of attorney filed with the court
and the Ministry of Justice. Most trials are closed.
There were reports during the year that the authorities tortured detainees
and pressured them to confess by isolation, blindfolding, and drugging
over a period of weeks.
A woman's testimony does not carry the same weight as that of a man.
In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.
Female parties to court proceedings such as divorce and family law
cases generally must deputize male relatives to speak on their behalf.
In the absence of two witnesses, or four witnesses in the case of adultery,
confessions before a judge almost always are required for criminal conviction--a
situation that repeatedly has led prosecuting authorities to coerce
confessions from suspects by threats and abuse (see Section 1.c.).
Sentencing is not uniform. Laws and regulations state that defendants
should be treated equally; however, under Shari'a as interpreted and
applied in Saudi Arabia, crimes against Muslims receive harsher penalties
than those against non-Muslims. In the case of wrongful death, the amount
of indemnity or "blood money" awarded to relatives varies
with the nationality, religion, age, and sex of the victim. A sentence
may be changed at any stage of review, except for punishments stipulated
by the Koran.
Provincial governors have the authority to exercise leniency and reduce
a judge's sentence. In general members of the royal family and other
powerful families are not subject to the same rule of law as ordinary
citizens. For example, judges do not have the power to issue a warrant
summoning any member of the royal family.
The King and his advisors review cases involving capital punishment.
The King has the authority to commute death sentences and grant pardons,
except for capital crimes committed against individuals. In such cases,
he may request the victim's next of kin to pardon the murderer--usually
in return for compensation from the family or the King.
There is insufficient information to determine the number of political
prisoners. The Government does not provide information regarding such
persons or respond to inquiries about them. It does not allow access
to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.
Moreover, the Government conducts closed trials for persons who may
be political prisoners and in other cases has detained persons incommunicado
for long periods while under investigation. Amnesty International (AI)
estimates the number of political prisoners to be between 100 and 200.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government infringes on these rights. The sanctity of family life
and the inviolability of the home are among the most fundamental of
Islamic precepts. Royal decrees include provisions calling for the Government
to defend the home from unlawful intrusions, while laws and regulations
prohibit officials from intercepting mail and electronic communication
except when necessary during criminal investigations. Nonetheless, there
are few procedural safeguards against government interference with privacy,
family, home, or correspondence.
The police generally must demonstrate reasonable cause and obtain permission
from the provincial governor before searching a private home; however,
warrants are not required by law.
Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband,
including material deemed pornographic and non-Muslim religious material.
Customs officials confiscated or censored materials considered offensive,
including Christian Bibles and religious videotapes (see Section 2.c.).
The authorities also open mail and use informants and wiretaps in internal
security and criminal matters. Security forces used wiretaps against
foreigners suspected of alcohol-related offenses. Informants (known
as "mukhbir") and ward bosses (known as "umdas")
report "seditious ideas" or antigovernment activity in their
neighborhoods to the Ministry of the Interior.
The Government enforces most social and Islamic religious norms, the
Government's interpretation of which are matters of law (see Section
5). Women may not marry noncitizens without government permission; men
must obtain government permission to marry noncitizen women outside
the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In accordance with Shari'a,
women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims; men may marry Christians
and Jews, as well as Muslims. Marriages between Sunni and Shi'a citizens
are discouraged, and any such marriages generally are made formal officiated
in ceremonies in the neighboring country of Bahrain.
Mutawwa'in practices and incidents of abuse varied widely in different
regions of the country, but they were most numerous in the central Nejd
region. In certain areas, both the Mutawwa'in and religious vigilantes
acting on their own harassed, abused, arrested, and detained citizens
and foreigners (see Section 1.d.). The Government requires the Mutawwa'in
to follow established procedures and to offer instruction in a polite
manner; however, Mutawwa'in did not always comply with the requirements.
During the year, the Government neither criticized publicly abuses by
Mutawwa'in and religious vigilantes nor sought to curtail such abuses.
Mutawwa'in enforcement of strict standards of social behavior included
the closing of commercial establishments during the five daily prayer
observances, insisting upon compliance with strict norms of public dress,
and dispersing gatherings of women in public places designated for men,
as well as preventing men from entering public places designated for
families. Mutawwa'in frequently reproached citizen and foreign women
for failure to observe strict dress codes and arrested men and women
found together who were not married or closely related.
Some professors believe that informers monitor comments made in university
classrooms and make reports to government authorities (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Government severely limits freedom of speech and the press; however,
the Government continued to relax restrictions somewhat during the year.
The authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the ruling family,
and criticism of the Government is rare. The authorities allow the press
some freedom to criticize governmental bodies and social policies through
editorial comments and cartoons. During the year, both Arabic and English
newspapers reported on domestic problems, such as abuse of women, servants,
and children, previously not addressed by the media. Persons whose criticisms
align them with an organized political opposition are subject to arrest
and detention until they confess to a crime or sign a statement promising
not to resume such criticisms, which is tantamount to a confession.
For example, writer Zuheir Kutbi claims that he has been imprisoned
six times for his writings. Due to his past imprisonment, Kutbi has
been deprived of employment and his passport, and lives under government
On occasion the Government provides direction to mosque orators and
imams regarding the content of their messages; in some instances the
Government has banned imams from speaking for political comments that
they made (see Section 2.c.).
The print media are privately owned but publicly subsidized. A media
policy statement and a national security law prohibit the dissemination
of criticism of the Government. The media policy statement urges journalists
to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve
the cultural heritage of the country. The Ministry of Information appoints,
and may remove, all editors in chief. It also provides guidelines to
newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Government owns the Saudi
Press Agency (SPA), which expresses official government views.
In 2000 the Government approved a wide-ranging press law that would
permit the creation of professional journalism societies and permit
the publication of foreign newspapers in the country. The law states
that local publications will be subject to censorship only in emergencies
and pledges to protect free expression of opinion; however, the law
obliges the authorities to censor foreign publications that defame Islam
and harm the interests of the state or the "ethics of the people."
Implementation of the law has not significantly changed current practices
regarding freedom of expression.
In July the Council of Ministers approved a new press law establishing
a journalists' association to address wages, benefits, and relations
with management. It will issue membership cards permitting journalists
to work in the country and oversee introduction of a minimum wage, job
security, and other benefits for journalists. Membership will be restricted
to citizens. The Government announced in December that the association
would be formed in early 2002.
Newspapers typically publish news on sensitive subjects, such as crime
or terrorism, only after the information has been released by the SPA
or when it has been authorized by a senior government official. Two
Saudi-owned, London-based dailies, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat and Al-Hayat,
are distributed widely and read in the country. Both newspapers tend
to practice self-censorship in order to comply with government restrictions
on sensitive issues.
The April 28 edition of Arreyand, an eastern province-based sports
daily, was seized by the Information Ministry to prevent criticism of
the Saudi Sports Federation; the Government directed another newspaper
not to publish anything on the event.
The authorities dictate to domestic newspapers when they are allowed
to release stories about the country that are based on stories in the
foreign press. The authorities also continued on occasion to censor
stories about the country in foreign publications. Censors on occasion
also remove or blacken offending articles imported into the country,
glue pages together, or prevent certain issues of foreign publications
from entering the market. However, while this occurs, it is not consistent
and frequently controversial articles about the country appear in foreign
publications that are distributed. During the year, the Ministry of
Information continued to relax its blackout policy regarding politically
sensitive news concerning the country reported in the international
media, although press restrictions regarding reporting of domestic news
remained very stringent. The Government's policy in this regard appears
to be motivated in part by pragmatic considerations: Access by citizens
to outside sources of information, such as Arabic and Western satellite
television channels and the Internet, is increasingly widespread.
The Government tightly restricts the entry of foreign journalists.
However, during the year, a relatively higher number of foreign journalists
received visas to enter and report in the country than in the previous
The Government owns and operates the television and radio companies.
Government censors remove any reference to politics, religions other
than Islam, pork or pigs, alcohol, and sex from foreign programs and
songs. There are several million satellite-receiving dishes in the country,
which provide citizens with foreign broadcasts. The legal status of
these devices is ambiguous. The Government ordered a halt to their importation
in 1992 at the request of religious leaders who objected to foreign
programming being made available on satellite channels. In 1994 the
Government banned the sale, installation, and maintenance of dishes
and supporting devices; however, the number of dishes continues to increase
and residents legally may subscribe to satellite decoding services that
require a dish.
The Government bans all books, magazines, and other materials that
it considers sexual or pornographic in nature. The Ministry of Information
compiles and updates a list of publications that are prohibited from
being sold in the country.
Access to the Internet is available legally only through Saudi servers,
which are monitored heavily by the Government. There are as many as
a million Internet subscribers. Some citizens attempt to circumvent
this control by accessing the Internet through servers in other countries.
The Government attempts to block all web sites that it deems sexual,
pornographic, politically offensive, or "un-Islamic." However,
such web sites are accessible from within the country. During the year,
the Government closed a number of Internet cafes, especially those established
for women, after complaints that the cafes were being used for "immoral
The Government censors all forms of public artistic expression and
prohibits cinemas and public musical or theatrical performances, except
those that are considered folkloric.
Academic freedom is restricted. The authorities prohibit the study
of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy. Some
professors believe that informers monitor their classroom comments and
report to government and religious authorities.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Shari'a does not address freedom of assembly, and the Government strictly
limits freedom of assembly in practice. It prohibits public demonstrations
as a means of political expression. Public meetings are segregated by
sex. Unless sponsored by diplomatic missions or approved by the appropriate
governor, foreign residents who seek to hold unsegregated meetings risk
arrest and deportation. The authorities monitor any large gatherings
of persons, especially of women. The Mutawwa'in dispersed groups of
women found in public places, such as restaurants. Government policy
permits women to attend cultural and social events at diplomatic chanceries
and residences only if they are accompanied by a father, brother, or
husband. However, in practice police often implement the policy in an
arbitrary manner. On some occasions during the year, authorities actively
prohibited women from entering diplomatic chanceries or residences to
attend cultural events and lectures.
Shari'a does not address freedom of association, and the Government
strictly limits freedom of association in practice. The Government prohibits
the establishment of political parties or any type of opposition group
(see Section 3). By its power to license associations, the Government
ensures that groups conform to public policy. The Government licenses
a large number of humanitarian organizations and tribal and professional
societies, such as the Saudi Chemists Society and the Saudi Pharmacists
Society. The Government claims that such groups operate without government
interference because they are not detrimental to public security.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion,
and all citizens must be Muslims. The Government prohibits non-Islamic
public worship but permits nondefined private worship. Conversion by
a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy. Public apostasy
is a crime under Shari'a and punishable by death. There were no executions
for apostasy during the year, and no reports of any such executions
for the past several years.
Islamic practice generally is limited to that of the Wahhabi order,
which adheres to the Hanbali school of the Sunni branch of Islam as
interpreted by Muhammad Ibn Al-Wahab, a puritanical 18th century religious
reformer. Practices contrary to this interpretation, such as visits
to the tombs of renowned Muslims or the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's
birthday, are discouraged. However, there are significant numbers of
Sufis in the western province who engage in technically illegal practices,
such as celebrating the Mawlid, or Prophet's birthday, more or less
openly without government interference. The practice of other schools
of Sunni Islam is discouraged, and there is institutionalized discrimination
against adherents of the Shi'a branch of Islam.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs directly supervises, and is a major
source of funds for, the construction and maintenance of most mosques
in the country. The Ministry pays the salaries of imams (prayer leaders)
and others who work in the mosques. On occasion the Government provides
direction to mosque orators and imams regarding the content of their
messages; in some instances, imams have been banned from speaking. A
governmental committee is responsible for defining the qualifications
of imams. The Mutawwa'in receive their funding from the Government and
are government employees. The General President of the Mutawwa'in holds
the rank of cabinet minister. Mutawwa'in and imams are trained at the
Imam Mohammed University outside of Riyadh and also at the Umm Al-Qura
University in Mecca.
Foreign imams are barred from leading worship during the most heavily
attended prayer times and prohibited from delivering sermons during
Friday congregational prayers. The Government states that its actions
are part of its "Saudiization" plan to replace foreign workers
with citizens. The spreading of Muslim teachings not in conformance
with the officially accepted interpretation of Islam is prohibited.
Writers and other individuals who publicly criticize this interpretation,
including both those who advocate a stricter interpretation and those
who favor a more moderate interpretation than the Government's, reportedly
have been imprisoned and faced other reprisals.
The Shi'a Muslim minority (roughly 900,000 of nearly 14 million citizens)
lives mostly in the Eastern Province, although a significant number
also reside in Madina in the western province. Its members are the objects
of officially sanctioned political, social, and economic discrimination
(see Section 5). Since beginning the investigation of the 1996 bombing
of the U.S. military installation at Al-Khobar, in which a number of
eastern province Shi'a were arrested, authorities have detained, interrogated,
and confiscated the passports of a number of Shi'a Muslims (see Section
The authorities permit the celebration of the Shi'a holiday of Ashura
in the eastern province city of Qatif, provided that the celebrants
do not undertake large, public marches or engage in self-flagellation
(a traditional Shi'a practice). The celebrations are monitored by the
police; however, police presence at the April Ashura celebrations reportedly
was much less prominent than the previous year. No other Ashura celebrations
are permitted in the country, and many Shi'a travel to Qatif or to Bahrain
to participate in Ashura celebrations. The Government continued to enforce
other restrictions on the Shi'a community, such as banning Shi'a books.
According to various reports, the Government arrested and detained
a number of Shi'a sheikhs (religious leaders) in 2000 and during the
year. Early in 2000, a Shi'a sheikh was taken into custody, and three
other sheikhs were arrested for unknown reasons near the border with
Jordan. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that at least seven additional
Shi'a religious leaders reportedly remained in detention for violating
restrictions on Shi'a religious practices. According to AI, Hashim Al-Sayyid
Al-Sada, a Shi'a cleric suspected of political or religious dissent,
was arrested in his home in April 2000 and reportedly remained in incommunicado
detention at year's end (see Section 1.d.). AI reported that Sheikh
Aliban Ali al-Ghanim was arrested in August 2000 at the border with
Jordan and held by the Mabuhith, the national investigative bureau that
is part of the Ministry of the Interior. In March Mabuhith officers
reportedly arrested and detained Sheikh Mohammed Al Amri in Medina.
The Government seldom permits private construction of Shi'a mosques.
The Shi'a have declined Government offers to build state-supported mosques
because the Government would prohibit the incorporation and display
of Shi'a motifs in any such mosques.
In April 2000, in the city of Najran, in the southwest region bordering
Yemen, rioting by members of the Makarama Ismaili Shi'a eventually led
to an attack by an armed group of Shi'a on a hotel that contained an
office of the regional governor. Security forces responded, leading
to extended gun battles between the two sides. Some press reports indicated
that the rioting followed the arrest of a Makarama Ismaili Shi'a imam
and some of his followers on charges of "sorcery." Various
other reports attributed the unrest to the closure of two Ismaili Shi'a
mosques and the provincial governor's refusal to permit Ismailis to
hold public observances of the Shi'a holiday of Ashura. Still other
reports attributed the unrest to a local crackdown on smuggling and
resultant tribal discontent. Officials at the highest level of the Government
stated that the unrest in Najran was not the result of Shi'a-Sunni tension
or religious discrimination. After the unrest ended the Government stated
that 5 members of the security forces were killed, and Ismaili leaders
claimed that as many as 40 Ismaili tribesmen were killed. There was
no independent confirmation of these claims.
In October 2000, AI reported that two Ismaili Shi'a teachers, who were
arrested in April 2000 following the unrest, were convicted on charges
of sorcery and each sentenced to 1,500 lashes; however, the report could
not be confirmed.
Magic is widely believed in and sometimes practiced, often in the form
of fortune-telling and swindles. However, under Shari'a the practice
of magic is regarded as the worst form of polytheism, an offense for
which no repentance is accepted, and which is punishable by death. There
are an unknown number of detainees held in prison on the charge of "sorcery,"
or the practice of "black magic" or "witchcraft."
In a few cases, self-proclaimed "miracle workers" have been
executed for sorcery involving physical harm or apostasy.
The Government prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities. Non-Muslim
worshippers risk arrest, lashing, and deportation for engaging in overt
religious activity that attracts official attention, although there
were no reports of lashings during the year. The Government has stated
publicly, including before the U.N. Committee on Human Rights in Geneva,
that its policy is to protect the right of non-Muslims to worship privately.
During the year, senior officials in the Government reaffirmed the right
of non-Muslims to engage in private religious worship to a visiting
religious delegation. However, it does not provide explicit guidelines--such
as the number of persons permitted to attend and acceptable locations--for
determining what constitutes private worship, which makes distinctions
between public and private worship unclear. Such lack of clarity, as
well as instances of arbitrary enforcement by the authorities, force
most non-Muslims to worship in such a manner as to avoid discovery by
the Government or others. Other high-level officials have confirmed
that the Government does not sanction investigation or harassment of
such private worship services. These officials ascribed any residual
harassment of private worship services or seizure of personal religious
materials, such as Bibles or icons, to individuals and organizations
acting on their own authority and in contradiction of Government policy.
In May and June, the Government detained between 12 and 14 Christians,
apparently in connection with two large farewell parties held by members
of the local evangelical Christian community in which religious activities
occurred. The parties were held in a public hall, which the organizers
had rented. Government officials maintained that so many persons attended
the event that it could not be considered private. The detainees were
still being held in a prison in Jeddah without charge at year's end.
Reports indicated that government officials suspected the group may
have succeeded in converting one or more citizens, a crime that (in
the case of the Saudi converts) is punishable by death. In October one
of the detainees reported that he was beaten; two others reportedly
were abused during interrogation.
On November 30, 2000, police broke up a gathering of 60 Christians
worshiping in a rented building and detained 5 of the worshipers for
approximately an hour for questioning. In December 2000, authorities
broke up a private Christian worship service of 12 Filipino citizens,
arrested 6 of the Filipinos, and detained 3 of those arrested for nearly
2 months. All six were deported early in the year. On April 20, a Filipino
Christian man reportedly was stopped at a routine police checkpoint
while driving a woman from a Christian service. After discovering religious
materials in the car, the police detained the man for 2 days.
The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country
for the purpose of conducting religious services, although some come
under other auspices. Such restrictions make it very difficult for most
non-Muslims to maintain contact with clergymen and attend services.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians, who require a priest on a regular
basis to receive the sacraments required by their faith, particularly
Proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim
religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal. There were no reports
during the year of arrests for proselytizing. Muslims or non-Muslims
wearing religious symbols of any kind in public risk confrontation with
the Mutawwa'in. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs,
approximately 50 so-called "Call and Guidance" centers employing
500 persons work to convert foreigners to Islam. Some non-Muslim foreigners
convert to Islam during their stay in the country, including more than
200 persons in Jeddah each year. The press often carries articles about
such conversions, including testimonials.
There were reports during the year that authorities interrogated members
of the Baha'i community, although they reportedly did not take additional
action against them.
Under the Hanbali interpretation of Shari'a law, judges may discount
the testimony of people who are not practicing Muslims or who do not
adhere to the correct doctrine. Legal sources report that testimony
by Shi'a is often ignored in courts of law or is deemed to have less
weight than testimony by Sunnis. For example, in May a judge in the
eastern province asked two witnesses to an automobile accident if they
were Shi'a. When they so confirmed, the judge announced to the court
that their testimony was inadmissible. Sentencing under the legal system
is not uniform. Laws and regulations state that defendants should be
treated equally; however, under Shari'a as interpreted and applied in
the country, crimes against Muslims may result in harsher penalties
than those against non-Muslims.
Islamic religious education is mandatory in public schools at all levels.
All children receive religious instruction, which generally is limited
to that of the Hanbali school of Islam.
In accordance with Shari'a, Saudi women are prohibited from marrying
non-Muslims, but Saudi men may marry Christians and Jews, as well as
The Government requires noncitizens to carry Iqamas, or legal resident
identity cards, which contain a religious designation for "Muslim"
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The Government restricts these rights. The Government restricts the
travel of Saudi women. They are not allowed to drive inside the country
and are dependent upon males for any transportation. Likewise, they
must obtain written permission from their closest male relative before
the authorities allow them to travel inside the country or to travel
abroad (see Section 5). In November the Government announced that women
could obtain their own identity cards; however, it required that they
obtain permission to receive a card from their nearest male relatives.
Moreover, the identity cards have not been made mandatory for women
(see Section 5).
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution some Shi'a suspected of subversion
have been subjected periodically to surveillance and limitations on
travel abroad. In previous years, the Government actively discouraged
Shi'a travel to Iran to visit pilgrimage sites due to security concerns.
Shi'a who traveled to Iran without government permission, or who were
suspected of such travel, normally had their passports confiscated upon
their return for periods of up to 2 years. However, according to press
reports, early in the year, the Government lifted the requirement that
citizens intending to travel to Iran seek permission in advance from
authorities, and the new policy reportedly was observed in practice.
The change corresponds with improving relations between Saudi Arabia
and Iran. Advance permission for travel to Iraq, whether for business
or religious pilgrimage, has been necessary for some time due to security
concerns, but such travel remains possible. Travel to Iraq still requires
Foreigners typically are allowed to reside or work in the country only
under the sponsorship of a Saudi national or business. By law the sponsors
or employers of foreign residents must hold their passports until they
are prepared to depart the country. The Government requires foreign
residents to carry identification cards. It does not permit foreigners
to travel outside the city of their employment or change their workplace
without their sponsor's permission. Previously, foreign residents who
traveled within the country could be asked by the authorities to show
that they possessed letters of permission from their employer or sponsor.
However, this regulation was rescinded late in the year, and only Iqamas
(residency identification) now were required, although by year's end,
there was no information regarding whether the authorities were observing
the new policy in practice.
Sponsors generally retain possession of foreign workers' passports,
although some classes of foreign workers are now allowed to keep their
passports. Foreign workers must obtain permission from their sponsors
to travel abroad. If sponsors are involved in a commercial or labor
dispute with foreign employees, they may ask the authorities to prohibit
the employees from departing the country until the dispute is resolved.
Some sponsors use this as a pressure tactic to resolve disputes in their
favor or to have foreign employees deported. There were numerous reports
of the Government prohibiting foreign employees involved in labor disputes
from departing the country until the dispute was resolved (see Sections
5 and 6.c.).
The Government seizes the passports of all potential suspects and witnesses
in criminal cases and suspends the issuance of exit visas to them until
the case is tried or otherwise concluded. As a result, some foreign
nationals are forced to remain in the country for lengthy periods against
their will. The authorities sometimes confiscate the passports of suspected
oppositionists and their families.
Citizens may emigrate. The Government prohibits dual citizenship; however,
children who holding other citizenship by virtue of birth abroad increasingly
are permitted to leave the country using non-Saudi passports. Apart
from marriage to a Saudi national, there are no provisions for foreign
residents to acquire citizenship. Foreigners are granted citizenship
in rare cases, generally through the advocacy of an influential patron.
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum and refugee status
in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
The Basic Law provides that "the state will grant political asylum
if the public interest militates in favor of it." The law does
not specify clear rules for adjudicating asylum cases, and does not
provide for first asylum. In general the authorities regard refugees
and displaced persons similarly as they do foreign workers: They must
have sponsors for employment or risk expulsion. Of the 33,000 Iraqi
civilians and former prisoners of war allowed refuge in the country
at the end of the Gulf War, none has been granted permanent asylum.
Nevertheless, the Government cooperates with the UNHCR. It has underwritten
the entire cost of providing safe haven to the Iraqi refugees and continues
to provide logistical and administrative support to the UNHCR and other
resettlement agencies. At year's end, approximately 27,000 of the original
33,000 Iraqi refugees had been resettled in other countries or voluntarily
repatriated to Iraq. Most of the approximately 5,200 remaining refugees
are restricted to the Rafha Refugee Camp. At year's end, plans prior
to September 11 to repatriate Afghan and Iraqi refugees were deferred.
Efforts continue to encourage the Iraqi refugees to return to their
country; in July there were brief demonstrations concerning the resettlement
program, and five refugees held a hunger strike. The UNHCR has monitored
over 3,000 persons voluntarily returning to Iraq from Rafha since December
1991 and found no evidence of forcible repatriation (see Section 1.c.).
The Government has allowed some foreigners to remain temporarily in
the country in cases in which their safety would be jeopardized if they
were deported to their home countries.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country
where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change
Citizens do not have the right to change their Government. There are
no formal democratic institutions, and only a few members of the ruling
family have a voice in the choice of leaders or in changing the political
system. The King rules on civil and religious matters within certain
limitations established by religious law, tradition, and the need to
maintain consensus among the ruling family and religious leaders.
The King is also the Prime Minister, and the Crown Prince serves as
Deputy Prime Minister. The King appoints all other ministers, who in
turn appoint subordinate officials with cabinet concurrence. In 1992
the King appointed 60 members to a Consultative Council, or Majlis Ash-Shura.
This strictly advisory body began to hold sessions in 1993. In 1997
and again in May the King expanded the membership of the Council; it
has 120 members plus its chairman. There are plans to expand the Majlis
Ash-Shura again in 2005. There are two Shi'as on the Council. The Council
engages in debates that, while closed to the general public, provide
advice and views occasionally contrary to the Government's proposed
policy or recommended course of action. The Government usually incorporates
the Majlis' advice into its final policy announcements or tries to convince
it why the Government's policy is correct.
The Council of Senior Islamic Scholars (ulema) is another advisory
body to the King and the Cabinet. It reviews the Government's public
policies for compliance with Shari'a. The Government views the Council
as an important source of religious legitimacy and takes the Council's
opinions into account when promulgating legislation.
Communication between citizens and the Government usually is expressed
through client-patron relationships and by affinity groups such as tribes,
families, and professional hierarchies. In theory any male citizen or
foreign national may express an opinion or a grievance at a majlis,
an open-door meeting held by the King, a prince, or an important national
or local official. However, as governmental functions have become more
complex, time-consuming, and centralized, public access to senior officials
has become more restricted. Since the assassination of King Faisal in
1975, Saudi kings have reduced the frequency of their personal contacts
with the public. However, during the year, Crown Prince Abdullah held
a variety of meetings with citizens throughout the country. Ministers
and district governors more readily grant audiences at a majlis.
Typical topics raised in a majlis include complaints about bureaucratic
delay or insensitivity, requests for personal redress or assistance,
and criticism of particular acts of government affecting family welfare.
Broader "political" concerns--social, economic, or foreign
policy--rarely are raised. Complaints about royal abuses of power are
not entertained. In general journalists, academics, and businessmen
believe that institutionalized avenues of domestic criticism of the
regime are closed. Feedback is filtered through private personal channels
and has affected various policy issues, including the Middle East peace
process, unemployment of young Saudi men, and the construction of new
The Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), an opposition
group, was established in 1993. The Government acted almost immediately
to repress it. In 1994 one of its founding members, Mohammed Al-Masari,
fled to the United Kingdom, where he sought political asylum and established
an overseas branch of the CDLR. In 1996 internal divisions within the
CDLR led to the creation of the rival Islamic Reform Movement (IRM),
headed by Sa'ad Al-Faqih. Al-Masari expressed the CDLR's "understanding"
of two fatal terrorist bombings of U.S. military facilities in 1995
and 1996 and sympathy for the perpetrators. The IRM implicitly condoned
the two terrorist attacks as well, arguing that they were a natural
outgrowth of a political system that does not tolerate peaceful dissent.
Both groups continue to criticize the Government, using computers and
fax transmissions to send newsletters to Saudi Arabia.
Women play no formal role in Government and politics and are actively
discouraged from doing so. Participation by women in a majlis is restricted,
although some women seek redress through female members of the royal
family. On rare occasions, women have been called to advise members
of the Majlis Ash-Shura in private, closed-door sessions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no publicly active human rights groups, and the Government
has made it clear that none critical of government policies would be
The Government generally does not permit visits by international human
rights groups or independent monitors; however, on several occasions,
the Government has announced publicly, through the press, that it would
welcome visits from AI, HRW, and other human rights organizations.
The Government disagrees with internationally accepted definitions
of human rights and views its interpretation of Islamic law as the only
necessary guide to protect human rights. The Government generally ignored
citations of government human rights abuses by international monitors
or foreign governments and, in the past, has criticized such citations
as attacks on Islam.
The Government announced on October 1 that the Council of Ministers'
approved a new law regarding punitive measures that address its obligations
under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment; however, by year's end, there were no reports
of its implementation.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language,
or Social Status
There is legal and systemic discrimination based on sex and religion.
The law forbids discrimination based on race, but not nationality, although
such discrimination occurs. The Government and private organizations
cooperate in providing services for persons with disabilities; however,
there is no legislation mandating public access. The Shi'a religious
minority suffers social, legal, economic, political, and sectarian discrimination.
Shari'a prohibits abuse and violence against all innocent persons,
including women. The Government does not keep statistics on spousal
abuse or other forms of violence against women. However, based on the
information available regarding physical spousal abuse and violence
against women, such violence and abuse appear to be common problems.
Hospital workers report that many women are admitted for treatment of
injuries that apparently result from spousal violence; hospitals now
are required to report any suspicious injuries to authorities. A Saudi
man may prevent his wife and any child or unmarried adult daughter from
obtaining an exit visa to depart the country (see Section 2.d.).
Foreign embassies continued to receive many reports that employers
abuse foreign women working as domestic servants. Some embassies of
countries with large domestic servant populations maintain safehouses
to which their citizens may flee to escape work situations that include
forced confinement, withholding of food, beating and other physical
abuse, and rape. Often the reported abuse is at the hands of female
citizens. During the year, the media reported more frequently on cases
involving domestic abuse of women, servants, and children. However,
in general the Government considers such cases to be family matters
and does not intervene unless charges of abuse are brought to its attention.
It is almost impossible for foreign women to obtain redress in the courts
due to the courts' strict evidentiary rules and the women's and servants'
own fears of reprisals. There were increasing reports during the year
of employers being punished for abuse of domestic servants. There are
no private support groups or religious associations to assist such women.
By religious law and social custom, women have the right to own property
and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or male relatives.
However, women have few political or social rights and are not treated
as equal members of society. There are no active women's rights groups.
Women legally may not drive motor vehicles and are restricted in their
use of public facilities when men are present. Women must enter city
buses by separate rear entrances and sit in specially designated sections.
Women risk arrest by the Mutawwa'in for riding in a vehicle driven by
a male who is not an employee or a close male relative. Women are not
admitted to a hospital for medical treatment without the consent of
a male relative. By law and custom, women may not undertake domestic
or foreign travel alone (see Section 2.d.). In November the Government
announced that women could obtain their own identity cards; however,
it required that they obtain permission to receive a card from their
nearest male relatives. In addition the identity cards were not made
mandatory for women, although some women applied for and obtained the
cards. In 1999 the Ministry of Interior announced that preparations
were underway to issue identity cards to women, which would represent
a step toward allowing women to establish independent legal identities
In public a woman is expected to wear an abaya (a black garment that
covers the entire body) and also to cover her head and hair. The Mutawwa'in
generally expect women from Arab countries, and other countries in Asia
and Africa to comply more fully with Saudi customs of dress than they
do Western women; nonetheless, in recent years they have instructed
Western women to wear the abaya and cover their hair and face. During
the year, Mutawwa'in continued to admonish and harass women to wear
their abayas and cover their hair.
There were no reports during the year of government officials and ministries
barring accredited female diplomats in the country from official meetings
or placing other restrictions on them, as had occurred in the past.
Prostitution is illegal and does not appear to be a widespread problem.
Women also are subject to discrimination under Shari'a as interpreted
in the country, which stipulates that daughters receive half the inheritance
awarded to their brothers. While Shari'a provides women with a basis
to own and dispose of property independently, women often are constrained
from asserting such rights because of various legal and societal barriers,
especially regarding employment and freedom of movement. In a Shari'a
court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women (see Section
1.e.). Although Islamic law permits polygyny, with up to four wives,
it is becoming less common due to demographic and economic changes.
Islamic law enjoins a man to treat each wife equally. In practice such
equality is left to the discretion of the husband. Some women participate
in Al-Mesyar (or "short daytime visit") marriages, or what
are described as "weekend marriages," in which the women relinquish
their legal rights to financial support and nighttime cohabitation.
Additionally, the husband is not required to inform his other wives
of the marriage, and any children resulting from such a marriage have
no inheritance rights. The Government places greater restrictions on
women than on men regarding marriage to noncitizens and non-Muslims
(see Section 1.f.).
Women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men
may divorce without giving cause. In doing so, men are required to pay
immediately an amount of money agreed upon at the time of the marriage,
which serves as a one-time alimony payment. Women who demonstrate legal
grounds for divorce still are entitled to this alimony. If divorced
or widowed, a Muslim woman normally may keep her children until they
attain a specified age: 7 years for boys; 9 years for girls. Children
over these ages are awarded to the divorced husband or the deceased
husband's family. Numerous divorced foreign women continued to be prevented
by their former husbands from visiting their children after divorce.
Women have access to free but segregated education through the university
level. They constitute over 58 percent of all university students, but
are excluded from studying such subjects as engineering, journalism,
and architecture. Men may study overseas; women may do so only if accompanied
by a spouse or an immediate male relative.
Women make up approximately 5 percent of the formal work force and
own about 20 percent of the businesses, although they must deputize
a male relative to represent them in financial transactions. Most employment
opportunities for women are in education and health care, with fewer
opportunities in business, philanthropy, banking, retail sales, and
the media. Despite limited educational opportunities in many professional
fields, some female citizens are able to study abroad and return to
work in professions such as architecture and journalism. Many foreign
women work as domestic servants and nurses.
In 1997 the Government authorized women to work in a limited capacity
in the hotel industry. Women who wish to enter nontraditional fields
are subject to discrimination. Women may not accept jobs in rural areas
if there are no adult male kin present with whom they may reside and
who agree to take responsibility for them. Most workplaces in which
women are present are segregated by gender. Frequently, contact with
male supervisors or clients is allowed only by telephone or fax machine.
In 1995 the Ministry of Commerce announced that women would no longer
be issued business licenses for work in fields that might require them
to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal on
a regular basis with government officials. However, in hospital settings
and in the oil industry, women and men work together, and, in some instances,
women supervise male employees.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international
health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health,
is practiced among some foreign workers from East Africa and the Nile
Valley. It is not always clear whether the procedure occurred in Saudi
Arabia or the workers' home countries. There is no law specifically
The Government provides all children with free education and medical
care. Children are not subject to the strict social segregation faced
by women although they are segregated by sex in schools, beginning at
the age of 7; however, schools were integrated through the fourth grade
in some areas. By age
9, most children are segregated by sex in school. In more general social
situations, boys are segregated at the age of 12 and girls at the onset
It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of child abuse, since the Government
currently keeps no national statistics on such cases. Although in general
Saudi culture greatly prizes children, new studies by Saudi female doctors
indicate that severe abuse and neglect of children appears to be more
widespread than previously reported. One major hospital has begun a
program to detect, report, and prevent child abuse. There are several
widely publicized programs to uncover and address child abuse.
In general children play a minimal role in the workforce; however,
there have been numerous reports that young boys of Saudi, Sudanese,
and South Asian origin are used as jockeys in camel races.
Trafficking in children for forced begging persists (see Sections 6.c.
Persons with Disabilities
The provision of government social services increasingly has brought
persons with disabilities into the public mainstream. The media carry
features highlighting the accomplishments of persons with disabilities
and sharply criticizing parents who neglect children with disabilities.
The Government and private charitable organizations cooperate in education,
employment, and other services for persons with disabilities. The law
provides hiring quotas for persons with disabilities. There is no legislation
that mandates public accessibility; however, newer commercial buildings
often include such access, as do some newer government buildings.
Foreign criminal rings reportedly bought and imported children with
disabilities for the purpose of forced begging (see Sections 6.c. and
Police generally transport mentally ill persons found wandering alone
in public to their families or a hospital. However, there were reports
that police pick up mentally ill persons for minor violations, detain
them for a few weeks, and then release them, only to detain them again
later for similar violations. Police officials recognize the problem,
but they claim that according to Islam, family members should be taking
care of such individuals.
Shi'a citizens are discriminated against in government and employment,
especially in national security jobs. Shi'a are subjected to employment
restrictions in the oil and petrochemical industries. Since the 1979
Iranian revolution, some Shi'a who are suspected of subversion have
been subjected periodically to surveillance and limitations on travel
abroad. Since beginning the investigation of the 1996 bombing of a U.S.
military installation, authorities have detained, interrogated, and
confiscated the passports of a number of Shi'a Muslims, including Shi'a
returning to the country following travel to Iran (see Sections 1.d.
and 2.d.). Additionally, the courts will not accept a member of the
Shi'a faith as a witness in a trial (see Section 2.c.).
In April 2000, in the city of Najran, in the southwest region bordering
Yemen, rioting by members of the Makarama Ismaili Shi'a eventually led
to an attack by an armed group of Shi'a on a hotel that contained an
office of the regional governor. Security forces responded, leading
to extended gun battles between the two sides (see Section 2.c.).
It commonly is believed that the Government accepted Abdullah al-Khoneizi
as new leader for the religious community in Qatif to replace his brother,
Al-Khuti, after his death in April.
Under the law, children of Saudi fathers are considered Muslim, regardless
of the country or the religious tradition in which they may have been
raised. In some cases, children raised in other countries and in other
religious traditions later taken by their Saudi fathers back to the
country reportedly were coerced to conform to their fathers' interpretation
of Islamic norms and practices. No such cases were reported during the
Although racial discrimination is illegal, there is substantial societal
prejudice based on ethnic or national origin. Foreign workers from Africa
and Asia are subject to various forms of formal and informal discrimination
and have the most difficulty in obtaining justice for their grievances.
For example, pay scales for identical or similar labor or professional
services are set by nationality such that two similarly qualified and
experienced foreign nationals performing the same employment duties
receive varied compensation based on their nationalities.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Government prohibits the establishment of labor unions; however,
in May the Government announced that beginning in December, workers
in companies employing more than 100 citizens could form "labor
The labor committees are to consist of three to nine members, who would
serve 3-year terms. The Government has no role in selecting the committee
members; both management and workers will be represented. The committee
may make recommendations to company management to improve work conditions,
increase productivity, improve health and safety, and recommend training
programs. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs may send a representative
to attend committee meetings. A committee must provide a written report
of its meetings to company management, which also will be transmitted
to the Ministry. The Ministry may dissolve a labor committee if it violates
regulations or threatens public security. Foreign workers may not form
or become members of labor committees. No committees were formed by
Strikes are prohibited, but several work stoppages were staged in Jeddah
in 2000 by foreign hospital, food processing, and construction workers
who had not been paid. There were no strikes reported during the year.
In 1995 the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation suspended
coverage for Saudi Arabia because of the Government's lack of compliance
with internationally recognized worker rights standards.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is forbidden. Foreign workers comprise about
two-thirds of the work force. There is no minimum wage; wages are set
by employers and vary according to the type of work performed and the
nationality of the worker (see Section 5).
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Government prohibits forced or compulsory labor pursuant to a royal
decree that abolished slavery. Ratification of the International Labor
Organization (ILO) Conventions 29 and 105, which prohibit forced labor,
gives them the force of law. However, employers have significant control
over the movements of foreign employees, which gives rise to situations
that sometimes involve forced labor, especially in remote areas where
workers are unable to leave their place of work.
Some sponsors prevented foreign workers from obtaining exit visas to
pressure them to sign a new work contract or to drop claims against
their employers for unpaid salary (see Section 2.d.). Additionally,
some sponsors refused to provide foreign workers with a "letter
of no objection" that would allow them to be employed by another
sponsor. The authorities in some cases forced maids fleeing abusive
employment circumstances to return to their employers.
There have been many reports of workers whose employers refused to
pay several months, or even years, of accumulated salary or other promised
benefits. Foreign workers with such grievances, except foreign domestic
servants, have the right to complain before the labor courts, but few
do so because of fear of deportation. The labor system is conducive
to the exploitation of foreign workers because enforcement of work contracts
is difficult and generally favors employers. Labor courts, while generally
fair, may take many months to reach a final appellate ruling, during
which time the employer may prevent the foreign laborer from leaving
the country. An employer also may delay a case until a worker's funds
are exhausted, and the worker is forced to return to his home country.
The law does not specifically prohibit forced or bonded labor by children.
Nonetheless, with the rare exception of criminal begging rings, and
the possible exceptions of family businesses, forced or bonded child
labor does not occur (see Section 6.d.). In 1997 the Government attempted
to eradicate forced child begging. Nevertheless, criminal rings consisting
almost exclusively of foreigners have continued to buy and import South
Asian and African children for the purpose of forced begging (see Section
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 13 years, which may be waived by
the Ministry of Labor with the consent of the juvenile's guardian. There
is no minimum age for workers employed in family-oriented businesses
or in other areas that are construed as extensions of the household,
such as farming, herding, and domestic service.
Children under the age of 18 may not be employed in hazardous or harmful
industries, such as mining or industries employing power-operated machinery.
While there is no formal government entity responsible for enforcing
the minimum age for employment of children, the Ministry of Justice
has jurisdiction and has acted as plaintiff in the few cases that have
arisen against alleged violators. However, in general children play
a minimal role in the work force.
The law does not prohibit specifically forced or bonded labor by children,
but it is not a problem, with the rare exception of forced child begging
rings, and possibly family businesses (see Section 6.c.). Reportedly,
young boys of Saudi, Sudanese, and South Asian origin are used as jockeys
in camel races.
The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms
of child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no legal minimum wage. Labor regulations establish a 48-hour
workweek at regular pay and allow employers to require up to 12 additional
hours of overtime at time-and-a-half pay. Labor law provides for a 24-hour
rest period, normally on Fridays, although the employer may grant it
on another day. The average wage generally provides a decent standard
of living for a worker and family.
The ILO has stated that the Government has not formulated legislation
implementing the ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration and that regulations
that segregate work places by sex, or limit vocational programs for
women, violate ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and
Workers risk losing employment if they remove themselves from hazardous
Labor regulations require employers to protect most workers from job-related
hazards and disease. However, foreign nationals report frequent failures
to enforce health and safety standards. Farmers, herdsmen, domestic
servants, and workers in family-operated businesses are not covered
by these regulations.
Some foreign nationals who have been recruited abroad have claimed
that after their arrival in the country, they were presented with work
contracts that specified lower wages and fewer benefits than originally
promised. Other foreign workers reportedly have signed contracts in
their home countries and later were pressured to sign less favorable
contracts upon arrival. Some employees report that at the end of their
contract service, their employers refuse to grant permission to allow
them to return home. Foreign employees involved in disputes with their
employers may find their freedom of movement restricted (see Section
2.d.). The labor laws, including those designed to limit working hours
and regulate working conditions, do not apply to foreign domestic servants,
and such domestic servants may not seek the protection of the labor
courts. There were credible reports that female domestic servants sometimes
were forced to work 16 to 20 hours per day 7 days per week. There were
numerous confirmed reports of maids fleeing employers and seeking refuge
in their embassies (see Section 5). Foreign embassies continued to receive
reports of employers abusing domestic servants. Such abuse included
withholding of food, beatings and other physical abuse, and rape (see
Section 5). The Government's figures for 1999 stated that 7,000 maids
fled their place of employment, and the actual number presumably was
higher. During the year, the media reported additional stories of such
incidents. The authorities in some cases forced such maids to return
to their places of employment.
The ongoing campaign to remove illegal immigrants from the country
has done little to Saudiize the economy because illegal immigrants largely
work in low-income positions, which most citizens consider unsuitable.
The Government is carrying out the campaign by widely publicizing its
enforcement of existing laws against illegal immigrants and citizens
employing or sponsoring illegal immigrants. In addition to deportation
for illegal workers and jail terms and fines for Saudis hiring illegal
workers, the Government announced in 1998 that houses rented to illegal
aliens would be ordered closed.
In 1997 the Government offered an amnesty to allow illegal immigrants
and their employers or sponsors to avoid the possibility of prosecution
by voluntarily seeking expeditious repatriation. As of September 1999,
as many as 1.1 million persons departed the country under terms of the
amnesty or were deported for violating residence and labor laws. During
this process, the Government bowed to domestic pressure and granted
grace periods and exemptions to certain categories of illegal immigrants
(such as servants, drivers, and shepherds), thereby allowing many illegal
immigrants to legalize their status without leaving the country.
The effect of the expeditious repatriation of some illegal immigrants
and the legalization of others has been to improve overall working conditions
for legally employed foreigners. Illegal immigrants generally are willing
to accept lower salaries and fewer benefits than legally employed immigrants.
The departure or legalization of illegal workers reduced the competition
for certain jobs and, thereby, reduced the incentive for legal immigrants
to accept lower wages and fewer benefits as a means of competing with
illegal immigrants. Furthermore, their departure or legalization removed
a large portion of the class of workers most vulnerable to abuse and
exploitation because of their illegal status.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however,
the law prohibits slavery and the smuggling of persons into the country.
Criminal rings consisting almost exclusively of foreigners have bought
and imported South Asian children, including children with disabilities,
and women for the purpose of organized begging, particularly in the
vicinity of the Grand Mosque in Mecca during Islamic holidays.
There were unconfirmed reports that women were trafficked into the
country to work as prostitutes.
Among the millions of foreign workers in the country, some persons,
particularly domestic workers, are defrauded by employment agencies
or exploited by employers; some workers overstay their contracts and
are exploited as they have few legal protections. Many foreign domestic
servants flee work situations that include forced confinement, beating
and other physical abuse, withholding of food, and rape. The authorities
often forced domestic servants to return to their places of employment
(see Sections 5 and 6.c.). The Government states that it does not believe
that trafficking in persons is a problem because foreign workers come
to the country voluntarily. It primarily focused on identifying and
deporting illegal workers, and did not devote significant effort or
resources to antitrafficking activity.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S.
State Department, March 2002