U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Saudi Arabia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Saudi Arabia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c3c.html [accessed 13 March 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
SAUDI ARABIASaudi 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. The Government has declared the Islamic holy books, 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 accept 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 and similar provincial assemblies. The Consultative Council began holding sessions in 1993 and was expanded in 1997. The judiciary is generally independent but is subject to influence by the executive branch and members of the royal family. Police and border forces under the Ministry of Interior are responsible for internal security. The Mutawwa'in, or religious police, constitute the Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, a semiautonomous agency that enforces adherence to Islamic norms by monitoring public behavior. The Government maintained general control of the security forces. However, members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. The oil industry has fueled the transformation of Saudi Arabia from a pastoral, agricultural, and commercial 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 around 35 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 72 percent of government income. Agriculture accounts for only about 8 percent of GDP. Government spending, including spending on the national airline, power, water, telephone, education, and health services, accounts for 36 percent of GDP. About 37 percent of the economy is in private hands, 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 campaign has restricted employment of some categories of foreign workers by limiting certain occupations to Saudis only, increasing fees for some types of work visas, and setting minimum wages for some job categories in order to increase the cost to employers of non-Saudi labor. In 1997 the Government has offered a limited amnesty under which illegal residents may depart the country without penalty. The Government commits and tolerates serious human rights abuses. 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 facilitate incommunicado detention. Prolonged detention is a problem. Security forces committed such abuses, in contradiction of law, but with the acquiescence of the Government. Mutawwa'in continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. The Government prohibits or restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and religion. Other continuing problems included discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and strict limitations on the rights of workers. The Government disagrees with internationally accepted definitions of human rights and views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights.