Historic Decision In Forced Divorce Case In Saudi Arabia Reunites Couple After Four Years Of Separation

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Equality Now Commends King Abdullah For Re-Examination Of Forced Divorce Decision And Urges Saudi Arabia To Revoke Male Guardianship

February 19, 2010
Contact: Lakshmi Anantnarayan, +1 212 586 0906, lanant@equalitynow.org

Reunion of siblings Suleiman and Nuha
Reunion of siblings Suleiman and Nuha

Saudi Arabia – International human rights organization Equality Now welcomes the decision of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judiciary Council to overturn an earlier court ruling of forced divorce in the case of Fatima Bent Suleiman and Mansour El Timani. After four years of separation, the couple and their children were finally reunited on February 17, 2010. Over the past year, Equality Now has actively advocated for the reunification of the family, calling on King Abdullah to annul the divorce by overturning the decision of the High Court of Jof. In September 2009, Equality Now was informed that King Abdullah had ordered the Supreme Judiciary Council to re-examine the decision in the case. “We hope this annulment will set a precedent for the other possible forced divorce cases in Saudi Arabia,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now.

In 2003 Fatima Bent Suleiman and Mansour El Timani were happily married. The couple had two children, a daughter Nuha born in May 2004, and a son, Suleiman born in November 2005. In just over a year after the marriage, following the passing away of Fatima’s father, her half-brothers filed a petition in the High Court of Jof asking the judge to divorce Fatima from Mansour on the grounds that he was of “inferior background.” Fatima believes her inheritance from her father may have been one of the reasons behind the divorce petition.

Fatima and Mansour were forced to divorce against their will, initially by the first instance court and reaffirmed after their appeal was rejected by the Cassation Court, the highest court in Saudi Arabia. When Fatima refused to separate from Mansour, she was imprisoned, with no apparent legal basis, with her two children for nine months until April 2007. Upon being released from prison, Fatima, had no option but to live in a state-run orphanage with her son and Mansour, who had to move constantly in fear of the police, looked after their daughter. The Saudi government had blacklisted Mansour for refusing to sign the divorce papers, which effectively barred him from working, owning property, or even getting a driver’s license. Fatima and Suleiman had not seen Mansour and Nuha in over three years.

Forced divorces are not an isolated issue in Saudi Arabia, rather they are symptomatic of a larger problem of male guardianship in the country. The fact that adult women have to depend on approval from male guardians for a variety of daily activities such as travel, education, employment, financial transactions, decisions in marriage and even medical procedures and treatment, severely curtails women’s ability to exercise their rights. Taina Bien-Aimé continues, “The Saudi government has denied the existence of guardianship of women before the UN Human Rights Council and yet the case of Fatima and Mansour is proof that it continues to exist. We urge King Abdullah to end male guardianship in the country once and for all. Saudi women are entitled to the enjoyment of their fundamental rights without interference.”

Febrero 19, 2010 - 12:30