Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 21 April 2016
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Saudi Arabia, 21 April 2016, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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.

Throughout 2015, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remained of concern, though there were incremental steps to improve women's rights.

In 2015, the UK continued to support the expansion of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. We welcomed the fact that the municipal elections of 12 December 2015 were the first in which women were able to stand for election and vote. In total, 38 women are now represented in municipal councils. The elections were monitored by the Saudi Arabian National Society for Human Rights, which declared them free and fair. However, we remain concerned about the inability of women to participate equally in society. Many of the barriers are cultural. We worked with a range of opinion-formers and activists to challenge entrenched attitudes and support those seeking to change them.

There was a continuing negative trend in the number of executions. In 2015, 158 people were executed, up from 90 in 2014. Part of the reason for this was the conclusion of a significant number of long-running legal cases. The UK, together with the EU, was vocal in our opposition to the death penalty, particularly in response to the execution of 47 people on 2 January 2016. We assess that, since the principle of the death penalty is enshrined in Saudi Arabia's Sharia law, abolition is unlikely in the near future. We continue to focus our efforts on reducing the number of death sentences and executions, including by encouraging Saudi Arabia to apply the minimum standards contained in the EU guidelines on the death penalty. In 2015 we regularly raised the cases of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher. All three were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles, although under Saudi Law they are considered to have been adult at the time.

In 2015, the UK and the EU continued to support freedom of expression, including in relation to the cases of Raif Badawi, Ashraf Fayadh and other human rights defenders. We raised these cases privately with the Saudi authorities. We continue to believe that raising issues in private is the most effective way of effecting change in this context.

In 2016, we will continue to focus on the application of the death penalty when not consistent with international minimum standards. We will continue to raise specific cases at a senior level with the Saudi Arabian authorities, and continue to follow closely cases relating to freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression.

We will also continue to look for opportunities to work with the government of Saudi Arabia and NGOs to encourage further steps towards allowing women to participate equally in society.

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