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Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1992
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Saudi Arabia, 1 January 1992, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca5cc.html [accessed 26 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1991

Human Rights Developments

Saudi Arabia is a party to only three international human rights instruments: the Genocide Convention, the Slavery Convention and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. Indeed, the kingdom was one of only a handful of countries – South Africa and former Soviet Bloc countries were the others – that did not vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Saudi Arabia's stated reservations to the Universal Declaration were that its call for freedom of religion violated the precepts of Islam, and that the human rights guaranteed by the Islamic-based law of Saudi Arabia surpassed those secured by the Universal Declaration.114 These two arguments were later repeated to explain Saudi refusal to sign most other human rights documents, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.115 The only other pertinent international treaties that Saudi Arabia has adhered to are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and thirteen (of more than 170) conventions of the International Labor Organization.

Saudi Arabia does not have a written constitution or an elected legislative body. There are no elections of any kind. All political parties are banned, as are most forms of association. All critical political expression is forbidden. The press is strictly regulated, and assembly is severely restricted.

In theory, the legal system is based on Shari'a (Islamic law). However, secular legislation is frequently proposed by the Council of Ministers. It becomes law after it is ratified by royal decree (marsoom). The king can directly issue a royal order (amr) which in practice has the same weight as a decree. Senior ministers also have broad authority to enact legislation. Secular courts specialize in commercial and labor disputes and interpret government-issued secular laws. But most courts are based on the strict Hanbali school of Shari'a law. There are no codified laws; the courts rely mostly on commentaries written in the Middle Ages, especially by the thirteen-century jurist, Ibn Taimiyya.

Frequently, the government bypasses the court system altogether, disposing of suspects either by administrative action or by forming closed-door summary tribunals to try them. In 1980, for example, then-King Khaled ordered the execution, without any judicial proceeding, of sixty-three suspects captured by government troops after bloody clashes with a radical Islamic group in which more than two hundred government forces were killed. While executions without trial are exceptional, lesser administrative sentences are common, including lengthy prison terms and flogging.

A royal pardon issued in June, resulting in the freeing of most prisoners held for politically motivated offenses without due process was the only notable improvement in human rights in Saudi Arabia in 1991. However, despite King Fahd's declarations since late 1990 that he would soon approve a draft constitution and appoint a consultative assembly, neither promise has been fulfilled. The hopes for positive change that were encouraged by international exposure during the Persian Gulf crisis were quickly dashed as soon as the war was over and access by the international press was once again restricted.

Saudi arrest and detention procedures are governed by Imprisonment and Detention Law No. 31 of 1978, which places few restrictions on the grounds or duration of pretrial detention of suspects. However, Article 4 waives all restrictions for "crimes involving national security," giving the Minister of Interior untrammeled discretion over these cases.

A judicial procedures act – the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia – was passed by the Council of Ministers and ratified by King Fahd in June 1990. This welcome law established guidelines for protective custody and pretrial detention and also clarified the sometimes problematic jurisdictional division between the Shari'a and secular courts. Two months later, however, King Fahd repealed the law, asserting that there was "need of further study," and once again leaving detainees with virtually no protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, especially at the hands of the secret and religious police.

During the first two months of 1991, the Saudi government continued its roundup of scores of opponents of the Gulf war, most of whom were members of various religious groups. Nearly all were released after the war and were never charged with any crime. In accordance with standard Saudi practice, most of these detainees were held in prolonged incommunicado detention without access to family or legal counsel. Only after the initial interrogation were some allowed legal counsel and, in the case of foreign detainees, visits by embassy representatives.

Hundreds of foreign residents, mostly Arab nationals, were arrested after an armed attack on a bus carrying U.S. military personnel in Jiddah on February 3, 1991. Most were released after the authorities were satisfied that the main suspects had been apprehended. While in custody, nearly all were held incommunicado.

The royal pardon referred to above resulted in the release of most detainees held without due process for nonviolent political offenses. Granting amnesty is customary around Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, but in 1991 it included more prisoners than in previous years, perhaps in celebration of the Desert Storm victory and as an attempt to mend fences with the opposition. Those pardoned included prisoners suspected of membership in the secular Arab Socialist Action Party and two Shi'a organizations, Hizbollah of Hijaz and the Islamic Revolution Organization. However, the amnesty did not mean immediate rehabilitation of all prisoners. Security prisoners were given a five-year probationary period when they cannot travel abroad or hold government jobs.

A number of long-term security prisoners did not benefit from the sweeping amnesty. They include twenty people arrested in 1988 on suspicion of bombing oil installations in the eastern oil town of Abqaiq. Denied legal representation during their trial, the twenty-six suspects were subjected to severe torture, according to credible reports from family members. Four of the suspects were executed under the terms of Regulation No. 148 of 1989, an ex-post-facto regulation issued after their arrest, in clear violation of the principles codified in Articles 6(2) and 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.116 Two others were released. The remaining twenty are still detained under the authority of the same regulation. The regulation was issued after the government secured a religious opinion (fatwa) from the Council of Senior Scholars, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, which redefined armed insurrection to include acts of terrorism and sabotage.

Others in detention without trial who did not benefit from the June 1991 royal pardon include five Shi'a students accused of setting a fire in their dormitory at King Saud University in Riyadh in July 1989.

Apart from security-related offenses, Saudi Arabia continues to hold scores of Saudi and foreign prisoners in defiance of international law, some of them for over a decade. Most of those held in these cases were not tried for criminal offenses, and some were never tried at all. They are imprisoned solely because of bankruptcy or failure to fulfill other contractual obligations, in clear violation of principles set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.117

In August 1991, Neville Norton, a British businessman, was released after five years in detention without trial because of a business dispute with members of the royal family. In the ten years preceding his detention, Norton's passport was confiscated, effectively preventing him from leaving the country. This was the latest in a string of similar cases involving foreign businessmen who had fallen afoul of their Saudi partners or members of the royal family. Some reported that they had been tortured during detention. Most foreign governments refrain from intervening for fear of jeopardizing economic ties with Saudi Arabia.

Both the use of force to elicit confessions and harsh conditions of detention aimed at punishing prisoners are common in the Saudi security system. While the Imprisonment and Detention Law 31 of 1978, for example, prohibits "any assault whatsoever on prisoners and detainees" (Article 28), the same law explicitly sanctions methods of discipline that violate international standards, such as flogging, indefinite solitary confinement and deprivation of family visits and correspondence (Article 20).

Even the limited protection offered by the Imprisonment and Detention Law does not extend to "crimes involving national security." Article 4 gives the Minister of Interior – already granted broad discretion to arrest and detain – virtually unlimited authority over state security suspects, with no judicial review of any kind. Nor, in practice, does this law apply to detention by the religious police.

Despite royal orders instructing detention authorities not to torture prisoners – usually issued after the death of a detainee – there were numerous reports in 1991 of torture in Saudi detention facilities, especially those of the secret and religious police. The secret police, known as the General Investigation Directorate (al-Mabaheth al-'Amma) has close to 150 detention facilities and unidentified "safe houses." The religious police, known as the Association for the Propagation of Virtue and the Deterrence of Vice (Hai'at al-Amr bil-Ma'rouf wa al-Nahi 'an al-Munkar), popularly termed "the Zealots" (al-Mutawe'a or Mutawwa'in), maintains more than two hundred stations throughout the kingdom.

Unpunished use of torture by members of the royal family was also reported in 1991. In July, the New York City police rescued Turki al-Yaqouti, a thirty-six-year-old Saudi member of the staff of Prince Khaled ibn Talal – a nephew of King Fahd – who was visiting New York at the time. According to a police account, al-Yaqouti "had clearly been tortured," with burns on his chest and both forearms and wrists. "It looked like somebody did a job on him," said one police official. The victim was taken to the New York Hospital Burn Center, but since he decided not to press charges, and since the police thought that the torture had probably taken place in Saudi Arabia, no charges were filed.

Three incidents of harassment of foreign workers in Riyadh were also reported to Middle East Watch. In all three cases, roving bands of junior princes and their bodyguards were responsible. Victims who reported the incidents to the police complained of official inaction.

While there were no reports of extrajudicial killings in Saudi Arabia in 1991, judicially ordered executions resumed in May after an eight-month moratorium following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Although no official reason was given, the timing of the suspension suggested that it was designed to avoid the scrutiny of hundreds of foreign reporters and television cameras allowed into the country throughout the Gulf crisis. In May and June alone, twenty-two were executed, suggesting that a backlog of death sentences had built up in previous months. Those condemned to death had been convicted of murder or drug trafficking.

All judicial executions carried out in 1991 violated internationally recognized due process guarantees. The only procedural rights allowed under Saudi regulations are the right to legal counsel before trial – if a suspect asks and can pay for it – and the right to confront one's accusers and contest one's pretrial confessions. However, defendants are not allowed legal representation in the courtroom, in clear violation of the principle set forth in Article 14(3)(d) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.118 Most of those condemned to death in 1991 were first held in prolonged incommunicado detention for interrogation before family visits and meetings with legal counsel were allowed, and some never received legal counsel, either because they did not ask for it or because they could not afford it. A number of the drug-trafficking death sentences were grossly disproportionate to the alleged crimes, which did not involve loss of life.

Corporal punishment continued in 1991 for political offenses as well as common crimes. For example, in June, Zuhair al-Safwani, a twenty-seven-year-old student, was sentenced to four years in jail and three hundred lashes for allegedly maintaining contacts with opposition groups outside the country. On December 6, two men (one Saudi and one Yemani) accused of stealing a safe had their right hands amputated in Jiddah, Saudia Arabia, thus resuming another pre-crisis practice of amputating the hands of convicted thieves.119

During the Gulf crisis, Saudi authorities banned all public criticism of the government's policies. A number of prominent clergymen and theologians were prevented from speaking out, including Shaikh Safar al-Hawali and Shaikh Salman Fahad al-Awdah. Shaikh al-Awdah was arrested several times in 1991 and then restricted to the Qasim region, three hundred kilometers north of Riyadh, in an effort to enforce the ban. While the restriction of his residence has not been rescinded, it was not strictly enforced after the end of the war. Dr. Muhammed al-Mas'ari, a professor at King Saud University who was sympathetic to the fundamentalist religious movement, was also prohibited from speaking publicly and for several months suspended from teaching.

Since October 2, Muhammed Shams al-Din Abdalla al-Fassi, a Saudi who is related by marriage to the royal family, has been held incommunicado after being arrested in Jordan and turned over to Saudi authorities.120 His family, which fears for his life, reports that he has been tortured and denied family visits and legal counsel. Al-Fassi incurred the displeasure of the Saudi government for, among other things, broadcasting on Radio Baghdad his critical views of the Saudi government during the Gulf crisis.

In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia granted visas to more than one thousand foreign reporters during the Gulf crisis. But the Saudi government and the Pentagon issued strict orders regulating the transmission of press reports. In addition to military censorship, reporters were instructed not to cover Saudi domestic issues.

Both Saudi and foreign reporters were arrested for unauthorized news coverage. Saleh al-Azzaz, editor-in-chief of the monthly Tejarat al-Riyadh (Riyadh Commerce) and regional editor of the weekly al-Majalla (The Magazine), was arrested on November 6, 1990 and held until March 4, 1991 – shortly after the end the war. He was accused of attempting to pass to Western news organizations reports of the November 6 demonstration by Saudi women demanding the right to drive. There were numerous incidents in which reporters were beaten by Saudi forces or had their copy confiscated or film destroyed when they veered from the approved itinerary. Shortly after the war ended, Saudi Arabia returned to its precrisis practice of denying most visa requests from foreign reporters.

On March 22, Saudi National Guardsmen forcibly dispersed a two-thousand-strong peaceful demonstration that took place in al-Qatif, a predominantly Shi'a town, in support of Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qasem al-Khoei. Imam al-Khoei – one of the highest-ranking Shi'a clergymen in the world and highly revered by the Saudi Shi'a population – had just been detained by the Iraqi government. The demonstration was thus against Saddam Hussein and could have been construed as supportive of Saudi government policy. This purpose notwithstanding, the official Saudi government ban on all demonstrations, especially those organized by the Shi'a community, meant that many of the participants in the demonstration were beaten and arrested. A similar, but smaller, demonstration organized in the eastern city of al-Dammam on March 29 met with a like response from security forces.

On May 28, in preparation for the annual Muslim pilgrimage al-Hajj, Saudi Minister of Interior Prince Nayef ibn Abdel Aziz issued a ban on using, displaying or bringing into the country "books, photographs, and leaflets of political, propagandistic or ideological aim." Aimed primarily at the Iranian pilgrims, permitted to return to the country for the first time since 1987 when a major disturbance left over four hundred dead, the ban was strictly enforced against all political literature and Shi'a religious documents.

On November 14, Abdel-Rahman al-Hassani, a Moroccan journalist and editor-in-chief of the weekly Hadihi al-Dunia (This World), was expelled from Saudi Arabia without being informed of the reasons.121 He attributes the expulsion to a combination of suspicion that he was distributing publications deemed politically objectionable to Saudi authorities and requests by the Moroccan government to expel him because of a critical column he had written in 1986 about Moroccan judges. The article had prompted the Moroccan Ministry of Interior to file formal criminal charges. According to an order issued in 1989 and apparently still in force, he is accused of "affront to the supreme dignity of Moroccan justice" and his name "is at all times and from now on officially listed at all Moroccan borders."

Long-standing discrimination against Saudi Arabia's Shi'a Muslim minority, which intensified after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), eased during 1991. Shi'a are the largest minority in the country; estimates range from two to seven percent of a total population of fifteen million, although there has been no official census.122 Shi'a are concentrated in the oil-producing Eastern Province, where their share of the relatively small native population is more significant.123

There were several reasons for the easing of repression. Shaikh Ali Hassan al-Saffar, a leading Saudi Shi'a cleric, supported the Saudi war effort against Iraq in speeches broadcast from his place of exile in Syria. Improved Saudi-Iranian relations and the Saudi government's need to close ranks at home also played a role.

As a result, close surveillance of Shi'a towns, raids by security forces, intimidation and public humiliation, all of which had been common, were stopped during 1991. Saudi Aramco, the government-owned oil company and the largest employer of Shi'a in the country, reopened its recruitment offices in Shi'a towns after years of inactivity. However, the number of new recruits was small despite the vast expansion of oil production and the flight of many foreign oil workers. Moreover, the policy started in the mid-1980s of displacing senior Shi'a executives at Aramco continued, according to Aramco employees interviewed by Middle East Watch.

Two petitions submitted to King Fahd by Shi'a clergymen in 1991 complained about a ban on the use of religious tracts required for the exercise of Shi'a religious rites. The clergymen also protested restrictions imposed on Shi'a university admissions, the ban on military service by Shi'as, and the difficulty faced by the community in trying to secure jobs with government agencies or government-owned companies.124

On September 30, Shaikh Abdalla ibn Jibreen, a member of the government-appointed Council of Senior Scholars, issued a fatwa that Shi'as are "idolators deserving to be killed." The fatwa, for which he has not been censured publicly, reflects the view of the Sunni religious establishment, although not necessarily the government as a whole.

Non-Muslim residents in Saudi Arabia also face official discrimination. They are not allowed to practice their religion in public, display religious symbols, or import religious books. During the Gulf war, this matter was one of the thorniest restrictions on U.S. and allied troops, although special exemptions were allowed to accommodate the foreign armies camped on Saudi soil for up to nine months.

There was no improvement in 1991 in the official Saudi policy of discrimination against women in employment, education and travel. By law, women are not allowed to travel within the country or abroad without being accompanied by a male relative. Women are also banned by law from employment in most public and private enterprises, except in those few circumstances in which the employer is able to provide a completely gender-segregated work environment. Technical and vocational training is off-limits to women except in health trades. Access to university education is controlled by strict quotas in almost all fields, with most professional schools completely barred to women.

Before November 1990, women had been banned in practice, but not by law, from driving in Saudi Arabia. However, when forty-seven mainly professional women challenged this custom on November 6, 1990 by driving their own cars in Riyadh (having secured driver licenses in other countries), the move backfired badly. All the women were arrested. Released the same day into the custody of their male relatives, the women had their passports confiscated and were suspended from any public job they had held, including a number of university professorships. Faced with uproar at the protest from the religious establishment and other fundamentalists, Prince Nayef, the minister of interior, later issued an order formally banning driving by women, thus making a hitherto implicit ban explicit in law.

In November 1991, passports were returned to the women and, according to reports received by Middle East Watch from those personally familiar with the case, the women were quietly given back pay and promised that they would be able to return to their former positions. It remains to be seen whether this promise is actually carried out. Moreover, the government has made clear that it will continue to punish those who try to challenge the officially sanctioned policy of gender-based discrimination.

An officially sanctioned campaign against Yemeni residents of Saudi Arabia, begun the previous year, persisted in 1991. The campaign was waged in retaliation for the Yemeni government's tilt toward Iraq during the Gulf crisis and in response to Yemeni press criticism of Saudi policy in the crisis. On September 22, 1990, the Saudi government abruptly ended the preferential treatment previously extended to Yemeni guest workers, including permission to work without a sponsor (kafil) and to operate businesses without a Saudi partner. The workers were given one month – later extended by another month – to find a sponsor, and businessmen were given three months to find Saudi partners. Close to one million out of the 1.5 million Yemenis in Saudi Arabia – many of them having lived most of their lives in the kingdom – were not able to adjust their status in accordance with the new procedures in the short time allowed and were ordered out of the country. Departing Yemenis were also forced to leave behind much of their property.125

Under the new procedures, thousands of Yemeni workers were detained in 1991 and most were deported without the opportunity for judicial review. Residents of Riyadh reported to Middle East Watch that Yemenis are still being arrested on sight, even if they hold valid permits. Those able to prove their compliance with the new requirements are usually released, but many of them are subjected to ill-treatment while being interrogated.

On November 8, 1990, in a surprise move clearly dictated by the unprecedented international scrutiny to which Saudi Arabia was being subjected at the time, King Fahd announced that he had approved the formation of a long-awaited consultative assembly. He promised that the assembly would be established "as soon as the final touches are made on a final draft of a basic law for the kingdom," which had been submitted to him by a special committee headed by Prince Nayef, the minster of interior and the king's brother. The announcement was the king's second in ten years that a consultative assembly and a basic law – the rough equivalent of a constitution – were about to come into existence.126

Buoyed by King Fahd's announcement and by the international attention resulting from the presence of half a million U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, forty-three leading Saudi figures from all walks of life and political leanings sent an open letter to the king suggesting the introduction of democratic reforms and the observance of basic liberties. The letter, which began circulating in the country clandestinely during the first half of December 1990, called on the king to expedite the appointment of a consultative assembly and the promulgation of a constitution. It also suggested reforming the judicial system and granting freedom of the press. Although security forces questioned a number of signatories to identify the petition's instigators, the government largely ignored the issue.

When, two months later, some two hundred religious scholars, including the senior hierarchy of the religious establishment, circulated a similar petition, the government took note. The king summoned a number of key signatories of the petition and criticized them for circulating it. After the meeting, some of the most prominent petitioners – including Shaikh Abdel Aziz ibn Baz, the highest religious authority in the country and probably the most significant name on the petition – publicly criticized the leaking of the document to the press and expressed their complete trust in the government.

In an important speech on November 7, 1991, King Fahd again said that the formation of an advisory council and the adoption of a basic law were imminent – "within a period of no more than a month or a month and a half." This was the most specific the Saudi government has been in setting a firm timetable, but given the government's thirty-year record of evasion and procrastination on this sensitive matter, most observers are skeptical about the prospects of democratic reform in Saudi Arabia in the near future.

Illustrating its true sentiments, the Saudi government is widely acknowledged to have been the main source of pressure on the Kuwaiti royal family to delay the reconvening of Kuwait's National Assembly, which was dissolved in 1986 in part at Saudi instigation. Pro-democracy activists in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates believe that Saudi pressure also lies behind their governments' opposition to democratic reform.

The Right to Monitor

There was no change in 1991 in Saudi policy banning the formation of local groups to monitor human rights. Membership by Saudi citizens in foreign-based human rights organizations is not allowed without authorization from the Ministry of Interior, which is rarely given.

During the Gulf crisis, Saudi Arabia allowed international human rights organizations relatively free access to interview refugees from Kuwait. Access to Iraqi refugees has been more restricted but not banned in principle.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was not allowed to visit Iraqi soldiers who surrendered between August 1990 and January 17, 1991. After the start of the war, the ICRC was given full access to prisoners-of-war.

U.S. Policy

A special relationship of over fifty years between the United States and Saudi Arabia was cemented by the war effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. President Bush's original justification for dispatching U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, in August 1990, was the alleged threat of an Iraqi invasion of the kingdom. Post-war cooperation has involved extensive contacts between the two countries on future security arrangements in the Gulf, Saudi defense plans, the fate of the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein, and the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Pledges to work toward a curb on all arms sales to the Middle East notwithstanding, the U.S. drive to arm Saudi Arabia with U.S.-made weapons accelerated in 1991 and is projected to continue over the next several years. On November 8, Pentagon officials announced the Administration's plans to provide Saudi Arabia with a large package of advanced weapons. The $3.3 billion sale, if approved by Congress, would include seven hundred ground-to-air missiles for fourteen defensive Patriot missile batteries, to be added to six batteries sold in the fall of 1990. In addition, Saudi Arabia has ordered seventy-two F-15 fighter planes from McDonnell Douglas, at a cost of $4 billion, according to an announcement by the company in November 1991. The two deals are part of a $14 billion arms package that Saudi Arabia is seeking to purchase from the United States for delivery in 1992 and 1993.

The U.S. government is also negotiating long-term arrangements with Saudi Arabia for the use of Saudi military facilities and the right to preposition a substantial cache of U.S.-owned weapons in the kingdom. The U.S. arming of Saudi Arabia, and the tremendous good will which the Saudi government has for the Bush Administration following the liberation of Kuwait, provide the Administration with a special opportunity to encourage Saudi respect for human rights.

Despite this opportunity, respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia has never been a priority for the Bush Administration or its predecessors. The State Department's Country Reports for Human Rights Practices in 1990, released in February 1991, catalogued in some detail human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. But the Administration has chosen not to follow its own findings with public statements indicating displeasure with those abuses.

With respect to political participation, there was only one reference in 1991 indicating a degree of U.S. concern about the absence of democracy in Saudi Arabia. On November 20, in a lengthy statement read by Edward Djerejian, the newly appointed assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East – his first appearance before the subcommittee since his appointment – he avoided mentioning human rights as a component of U.S. policy toward the region. Questioned later on the subject of political participation, Secretary Djerejian said that the United States was "pressing all countries in the region, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to make democratic reforms."127

During the entire seven-month crisis in the Gulf, the United States treated the Saudi government with kid gloves. Saudi Arabia had refused to treat as prisoners of war Iraqi soldiers who surrendered before the start of the war on January 16, 1991. Classifying them as "military refugees" who did not fall under the protection of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, the Saudi government did not allow prisoners to contact their families and prevented visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross. U.S. officials told Middle East Watch at the time that they considered these soldiers to be prisoners of war entitled to protection under the Third Geneva Convention. They also told Middle East Watch that the two governments had signed an agreement – the provisions of which were classified – to spell out the treatment of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Despite this disagreement, and the joint responsibility of the two governments to ensure compliance with the Third Geneva Convention, the United States refrained from publicly commenting on the issue.

The Work of Middle East Watch

During the Gulf crisis, Middle East Watch dispatched two missions to Saudi Arabia to interview Kuwaitis and others seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Later, in May 1991, a Middle East Watch delegation visiting Kuwait at the time went to Rafha, in northern Saudi Arabia, to visit the main Saudi camp for Iraqi refugees there. A separate request, submitted to the Saudi Embassy in Washington for permission to send a human rights mission through Saudi Arabia on the way to the then U.S.-controlled zone of southern Iraq, met with no response.

Throughout the crisis, Middle East Watch followed the treatment by Saudi Arabia of Iraqi prisoners of war. On March 7, it issued a newsletter, "POWs, Wounded and Killed Soldiers," criticizing the conduct of the principal parties to the Gulf war – Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States – in their treatment of prisoners of war.

In June, in testimony before the House Subcommittees on Europe and the Middle East and on Human Rights and International Organizations, Middle East Watch criticized Saudi Arabia's pressure on the Kuwaiti government to postpone parliamentary elections. In August, Middle East Watch communicated to the Saudi government its concern over reports that Iraqi refugees in Saudi Arabia were denied access to the outside world. We also called on Saudi Arabia to facilitate refugee relocation to other countries. In September, Saudi Arabia formally asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help in the resettlement of Iraqi refugees who did not wish to be repatriated.

In our report on human rights violations in Kuwait, issued on September 11, Middle East Watch criticized the Saudi government's refusal to allow Palestinians wishing to leave Kuwait by land to pass through Saudi territory on their way to Jordan. The effect of this policy, for those who did not want to risk the dangerous passage through Iraq, was to limit the possessions that they could take with them to items that could be carried as personal luggage on an airplane. The policy, which Saudi Arabia instituted upon the liberation of Kuwait on February 26, was amended by the end of October, according to reports received by Middle East Watch from Kuwaiti officials. However, as of mid-November, Middle East Watch was still receiving reports that Palestinians leaving Kuwait were not allowed to pass by land through Saudi territory.

On November 1, Middle East Watch wrote to the Saudi government expressing its concern over the incommunicado detention and reported mistreatment of Muhammed al-Fassi, who had been arrested in Jordan and turned over to Saudi Arabia in early October. No reply was received to this or previous such protests.

On November 17, in its report entitled Needless Deaths in the Gulf War, Middle East Watch documented Iraqi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. The report condemned as indiscriminate the Iraqi attacks on population centers in Saudi Arabia.128


Ministry of Information, Proceedings of Conference of Saudi Scholars and European Lawyers on Islamic Law and Human Rights, Riyadh: Ministry of Information Press, 1972, p. 15 (in Arabic).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Studies Institute, Human Rights: Western Claims and Islamic Authenticity, Riyadh, 1986.

Despite the Saudi government's contention that this regulation was not a new law but merely an interpretation of existing Shari'a prohibition against terrorism, many in Saudi Arabia believed that it was a departure from long-standing practice. The regulation allowed judges to impose the death penalty on those who commit acts of sabotage against "essential utilities such as oil pipelines and oil installations whose functioning is essential for the safety of citizens or the security of the nation." The regulation did not require that the sabotage result in loss of life for the death penalty to be imposed. While the Qur'anic phrase on which the regulation relies is admittedly ambiguous, it had been long-standing practice that the range of punishments for armed insurrection (heraba) spelled out in the Qur'an (ranging in severity from exile to execution) be calibrated to the severity of the harm caused, with the maximum penalty reserved for acts of insurrection that result in loss of life. (Middle East Watch interviews, August 1990; Muhammed Mufti and Sami al-Wakil, Islamic Political Theory of Human Rights, Qatar: Al-Umma Publications, 1990, p. 43, in Arabic.)

Article 11 of the Covenant provides, "No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation."

However, defendants in nonpolitical cases are allowed legal counsel outside the courtroom, and a defendant who does not speak Arabic is allowed to have a translator in the courtroom who in practice can be a lawyer.

Le Monde, December 10, 1991, quoting the Saudi daily Arab News of Jiddah.

Muhammed al-Fassi's sister is married to Prince Turki ibn Abdel Aziz, King Fahd's brother and a former deputy minister of defense. Shams al-Din al-Fassi, Muhammed's father, had been detained in Saudi Arabia for several years without charge, reportedly for holding unpopular religious views. In October 1983, a plot to kill Shams al-Din al-Fassi was uncovered in London. In October 1984, Walter Martindale, a former U.S. State Department official, was convicted in U.S. federal court on several gun-possession charges in connection with the plot, and was sentenced to ten years in prison. Martindale maintained during the trial that the plot had been masterminded by Prince Nayef ibn Abdel Aziz, the Saudi minister of interior and another brother of King Fahd.

The newspaper was started in Morocco in 1966. In 1986, it moved its offices to Greece. During 1990-91, its editors were in Saudi Arabia and Greece but it was printed in Athens and distributed from there.

Unofficial estimates suggest that the native population of Saudi Arabia is close to two-thirds of the total population. Three to eleven percent of the native population is Shi'a.

There are also smaller Shi'a communities in 'Asir Province near the Yemeni border and in Medina, the second holy city.

The complaint about job discrimination mentioned Aramco (the oil company), Petromin (the oil-distribution network), SABIC (Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Company, the petrochemical conglomerate) and the Eastern Province Power Company.

Saudi border guards required proof of purchase for items taken out of the country. To make sure that the goods were for personal use and not resale, the quantities allowed across the border were limited.

In 1980, King Fahd, then crown prince, made a similar announcement, saying that a draft constitution had been completed.

The text of the prepared ten-page statement was provided to Middle East Watch by the State Department but the transcript of the hearing was not available as this report went to press. The quoted answer was provided to Middle East Watch by a reporter who had attended the hearing.

The findings of the report are discussed in the above chapter on Iraq.

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