The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has tacitly acknowledged the scale of international condemnation of its human rights record - by promising to create a database of concerns. It said yesterday that the kingdom would be the first country in the Arab World to set up a database for 'monitoring the implementation of recommendations of international mechanisms'.
Although a government announcement said the step was 'widely acclaimed' by the international community, it is unlikely to placate critics. Saudi Arabia faces international pressure over numerous human rights issues, including last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the application of the death penalty.
According to a press release from the Ministry of Media, Dr Awwad Alawwad, president of Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission, said that the database had been created as part of 'constructive cooperation' under a memorandum of understanding between the country and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Alawwad said the database would help the Human Rights Commission to perform its tasks more easily. 'The database will be a rich and useful resource for government agencies in carrying out their vital roles in the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level, as well as for civil society institutions that we consider as a strategic and effective partner in this field.'
He claimed that kingdom has made several legal changes to bring it into line with international standards, including banning corporal punishment on offenders under the age of 18 at the time of committing a crime. Measures to improve the rights of women include allowing them to drive, have a passport, and travel abroad on an equal footing with men, he said. Meanwhile a new supreme order stipulates that government bodies should not require a woman to obtain her guardian’s permission when providing services or completing procedures for her.
He added: 'Several other reform measures have also been taken in the context of the judiciary and criminal justice, including the establishment of specialised courts to unify judicial procedures and the Justice Training Center to qualify and raise the efficiency of judges and their aides, based on the provisions of the human rights conventions to which the kingdom has become party.'