Stand with Saudi women on International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders - Equality Now
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Stand with Saudi women on International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders

On the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, we respectfully urge that you continue to take a stand for the promotion and respect for human rights. It is of the utmost urgency that all human rights activists who have been arbitrarily detained be immediately and unconditionally released. We ask that you call on the Saudi authorities to ensure that  more activists are not arrested simply for striving for the protection and realisation of human rights through peaceful means.

The tragic killing of the Saudi Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, has raised great international awareness to the repressive environment that exists for human rights defenders and activists who have been brave enough to raise their concerns about the standards of human rights protection in Saudi Arabia. We commend your decision not to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh in October of this year and believe this position was important in showing that the world will not remain silent in the face of allegations of human rights abuses in the Kingdom. In addition, we praise the recent decisions of the German, Danish, Dutch and Finnish governments to halt arms deals with Saudi Arabia, in the hope that other countries will follow.  

We continue to remain gravely concerned by the ongoing treatment of detained women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. They have been imprisoned since May 2018 apparently only for having peacefully campaigned for the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the Kingdom. They remain without having access to proper legal representation or their families.

Compounding our concerns are reports which have recently emerged from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regarding the alleged  torture, sexual harassment and degrading treatment of these women while in detention. Such acts have been reported to include repetitive torture by electrocution and flogging, being made to hang from the ceiling and subjected to sexual harassment by interrogators wearing face masks.  

Detained women’s rights activists include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah, Nouf Al-Jerawi, Mayaa Al-Zahrani, and Amal al-Harbi. They have been long advocates for Saudi women’s right to drive, have called for an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system and have peacefully campaigned for greater respect for human rights. Dr al-Fassi for example is a renowned academic and one of the first women to acquire a Saudi driving license. On 17 November she received the Academic Freedom Award for 2018 by the Middle East Studies Association of North America. Fighting to protect women rights is not a crime!

In 2016, the Committee Against Torture in its second periodic report of Saudi Arabia expressed concern at the application of terrorism legislation, through Specialised Criminal Courts, which enables the criminalisation of acts of peaceful expression considered as ‘endangering national unity’ or ‘undermining the reputation or position of the State’. These courts which have been used to try human rights defenders violate international standards for the right to a fair trial and allow authorities to detain individuals without providing them with access to justice, including access to family members or legal representation. As further recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in March 2018, the Saudi state should facilitate women’s access to justice and institutionalise legal aid that is accessible, sustainable and responsive to the needs of women.   

On the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, we respectfully urge that you continue to take a stand for the promotion and respect for human rights. It is of the utmost urgency that all human rights activists who have been arbitrarily detained be immediately and unconditionally released. We ask that you call on the Saudi authorities to ensure that  more activists are not arrested simply for striving for the protection and realisation of human rights through peaceful means.

Sign Women's March Global's petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for human rights violations.

2- Human Rights Watch on 20 November 2018 available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/20/saudi-arabia-detained-women-reported-tortured
3- CAT Concluding Observations on the second periodic report of Saudi Arabia, 8 June 2016: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT%2fC%2fSAU%2fCO%2f2&Lang=en
4- CEDAW Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Saudi Arabia, 9 March 2018: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fSAU%2fCO%2f3-4&Lang=en