Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2011

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  • In January, a court in Jubail sentenced a 13-year-old school girl to 90 lashes, to be carried out in front of her classmates, after it convicted her of assaulting a teacher. She was also sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Further details were not known and it was not clear whether the flogging was carried out or not.
  • In November, a man was reported to have been sentenced to 500 lashes and five years' imprisonment by a court in Jeddah for homosexuality, among other charges.

Women's rights

Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice and to be subjected to domestic and other violence. The law does not give women equal status with men, and rules on male guardianship subordinate women to men in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody and freedom of movement. This leaves women vulnerable to violence within the home, which may be committed by men with impunity.

  • The case of a 12-year-old girl whose father had forcibly married her to an 80-year-old man for money was widely publicized in Saudi Arabia and abroad. Legal action by local human rights activists highlighted the case and resulted in the girl obtaining a divorce in February.
  • In February, the Supreme Judicial Council overturned a lower court decision in 2006 requiring a married couple, Fatima al-Azzaz and Mansur al-Taimani, to divorce against their wishes. The earlier case had been brought by the brother of Fatima al-Azzaz on the ground that her husband was from a tribe of lower social status and therefore did not satisfy the rule of parity of status, which provides that spouses must be of equal social status or the marriage will be invalid.

In November, Saudi Arabia was elected to the board of a new UN body established to promote women's rights.

Migrants' rights

The sponsorship system governing employment of foreign nationals continued to expose them to exploitation and abuse by private and government employers, and allowed them little or no redress. Typical abuses included long working hours, non-payment of salaries, being refused permission to return home after completing their contracts and violence, particularly against women domestic workers.

  • Yahya Mokhtar, a Sudanese medical doctor who had been stranded with his family since 2008 because his former employer refused to allow him to leave Saudi Arabia, was allowed to return to Sudan in May.
  • L.P. Ariyawathie, a Sri Lankan employed as a domestic worker, was found to have 24 nails and a needle driven into her hands, leg and forehead when she returned to Sri Lanka in August. She said that the injuries had been inflicted by her employer when she complained about her heavy workload. It was unclear whether the Saudi Arabian authorities were investigating the matter.
  • An Indonesian domestic worker, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, was hospitalized in Madina following reports that her employers cut her face with scissors, burned her with an iron and beat her. The mutilated body of another Indonesian worker, Kikim Komalasari, was found in a skip in Abha. The Saudi Arabian and Indonesian authorities were said to be investigating the cases.

Air strikes and killings of civilians in northern Yemen

In November 2009, Saudi Arabian forces became involved in the conflict between Yemeni government forces and Huthi rebels in the Sa'dah area of Yemen (see Yemen entry). Saudi Arabian forces clashed with armed Huthis and carried out air strikes against towns and villages in Sa'dah. Some of these attacks appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. They ceased when the Yemeni government and Huthi rebels agreed a ceasefire in February.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In June and July, the authorities forcibly returned some 2,000 Somali nationals to Somalia, despite the continuing armed conflict there and appeals from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Most of those returned were women.