The Acts of the Democracies




Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia agrees to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but the Council of Ministers say that the country would not comply with "any clause in the agreement that contradicts Islamic Shari'a [law]."

Saudi women continue to face severe discrimination in all aspects of their lives, including the family, education, employment, and the justice system. Religious police (Mutawaa'in) enforce a modesty code of dress and institutions from schools to ministries are separated by gender. In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

Women may not marry non-Saudis without government permission; men must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to marry women from countries outside the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In accordance with Shari'a, women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims; men may marry Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims. Under Shari'a as interpreted in Saudi Arabia, daughters receive half of the inheritance awarded to their brothers. Women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause. Adultery by women is punished by death by stoning.

The Government restricts the travel of Saudi women, who must obtain written permission from their closest male relative before the authorities allow them to board domestic public transportation or to travel abroad. Women, including foreigners, are not allowed to drive motor vehicles. Women are not admitted to a hospital for medical treatment without the consent of a male relative.

The Saudi legal system has been criticised by human rights groups. Saudi courts impose corporal punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and floggings for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" and drunkenness. Under the Saudi legal system, detainees have no right to legal counsel, no right to examine witnesses, no right to call witnesses of their own; uncorraborated confessions could constitute the basis for conviction and sentencing.

In Qunfuda a court sentences 9 transvestites to imprisonment for between 5 and 6 years and to 2,400 to 2,600 lashes. The floggings are to be carried out in 50 equal sessions, with a 15 day break between each punishment.

People practicing non-Islamic faiths are regularly arrested. Even forms of Islam that differ to the officially approved Wahhabi form of Islam are discouraged and their adherents persecuted. Conversion of a Muslim to another faith is punishable by death. Shi'a who travel to Iran without permission from the Ministry of the Interior, or those suspected of such travel, can have their passports confiscated for up to 2 years.

Under Shari'a, as interpreted and applied in Saudi Arabia, crimes against Muslims receive harsher penalties than those against non-Muslims. In the case of wrongful death, the amount of indemnity or "blood money" awarded to relatives varies with the nationality, religion, and sex of the victim.

The Government censors all forms of public artistic expression and prohibits cinemas and public musical or theatrical performances, except those that are considered folkloric. Academic freedom is restricted. The authorities prohibit the study of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy. Criticism of Islam or the government is forbidden. Freedom of assembly is denied, especially to groups of women.

The country continues to provide refuge and financial support to Idi Amin, the exiled Ugandan leader whose regime was responsible for a reign of terror that left an estimated 30,000 dead in the 1970s.

Saudi Arabia is an autocratic monarchy with no elections. The monarch and his family run most of the branches of the government from which women are excluded.

The country is supported and armed by the West and considered to be a "moderate Arab state".

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