Saudi gives rights body full powers

JEDDAH — The Saudi Council of Ministers has granted the newly formed Human Rights Commission (HRC) the right to rectify and review all systems in the kingdom related to human rights, according to the Arabic daily Al Watan.

By From Habib Shaikh (Our correspondent)

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Published: Tue 18 Oct 2005, 11:04 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:51 PM

The Commission will also have the right to access prisons and detention centres at any time and submit reports to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, without the need to obtain official permission, the daily said. It added that the HRC would become active 60 days from the date of inception.

The Commission’s responsibility includes monitoring government sectors, carrying out procedures related to human rights and making public all violations. According to the rules of the organisation, government sectors must provide the Commission with whatever is requested of them, such as statistics or information.

Minister of Culture and Information Iyad Madani said the government agreed to create the HRC for safeguarding human rights and helping spread awareness about individual rights within the context of Islamic law, which is applied in the kingdom.

"This will be a specialised government body for giving advice on the issue of human rights," Madani added.

Maj.-Gen. Ali Al Harthi, Director of Prisons Administration, welcomed the formation of the new Commission adding that his administration was ready to cooperate with it and facilitate their mission in all prisons.

He said such efforts by the Saudi government to assure the implementation of human rights in the society and different sectors were always welcomed by everyone. He believed that the aim was to increase the community's sense of human rights and to teach people that monitoring human rights is the responsibility of both the government and the private sector.

He said visiting the prisons any time by the Commission and without permission from the administration does not bother him. He said he was sure that any visitor would find by himself that prisoners were taken care of and that they receive all the required heath and psychological care.

"It is true that we face some difficulties with some of the prisoners who suffer from psychological problems due to addiction to certain types of drugs or so, but we deal with them well and the whole situation is under control," he explained.

According to him, visitors would find those prisoners' problems to stem mainly from outside factors other than the way the prison administration deals with them.

The documents establishing the Commission state that the HRC will report directly to King Abdullah. It aims at protecting and reinforcing human rights in the kingdom and hold them to international standards. Furthermore there would be awareness campaigns on behalf of the Commission, subject to the Shariah law.

"The goals and interests of both organisations aim at serving the human rights of Saudi citizens as well as residents," said Dr Suhaila Zain Al Abedeen Hamad, a member of the non-government National Human Rights Association (NHRA). “We are going to cooperate and assist each other in everything regarding human rights,” she said

The official statement gives the Commission a wider range of rights than the NHRA, which was established in March 2004. It is limited to making suggestions, addressing them later to the appropriate authorities and waiting for their response. Those authorities, however, are not obliged to make any changes sought by NHRA.

The Human Rights Commission will be headed by Turki bin Khaled Al Sudairi as president with the rank of a minister. There will be a vice-president and 24 members, all appointed directly on an order from King Abdullah.

The procedure of forming the HRC is totally different from the NHRA. “The NHRA has 40 members. Four members have recently been suspended as there might be conflict of interest as they joined the government recently,” said Hamad. “The NHRA was only meant to be a civil institution,” she said and explained that the government was aiming to increase the number of civic institutions such as the Saudi Journalists’ Association and the planned Writers' League. “We demand the establishment of more civic organisations. If we joined the government, we would be lost,” she added.

Hamad said that on the organisational level the Commission is “almost the same as the NHRA.” The organisation’s administration and public affairs department is charged with coordinating with international human rights organisations and following up cases of abuse of Saudis abroad. Similar action was initiated by NHRA that took up the case of Saudi detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the missing Saudis in Syria.

She said that the role of both organisations will not contradict each other, as each one has its privacy and has its own cases. However, she said she was surprised that the Commission was not an executive authority and that its authority was similar to that given to NHRA.

According to Saudi officials, the HRC was expected to complement the previously launched non-government NHRA and not conflict with each other's goals.

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