6 April 2000
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
I have the honor to address you, on behalf of the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from this august rostrum on the important occasion of our annual gathering in which States with different cultures and civilizations meet in an endeavor to promote and protect human rights. In other words, the purpose of this important forum is to honor, and enhance the status of, the human person, whom God created and exalted. Successive ages have witnessed manifestations of man’s injustice to his fellow man, illustrated by slavery, displacement and violation of his fundamental rights and human dignity.
We are happy to welcome the third millennium and begin it in a new and more promising manner conducive to optimism and hope, with unanimous agreement that human rights are a non-negotiable objective for the achievement of which we must all strive together.
My delegation looks forward to a successful session, under your wise direction, characterized by in-depth dialogue and exchanges of views, mutual trust and transparency in our work. Our common goal should be a joint endeavor to protect and defend human rights in a manner consistent with the aspirations of all. The broad and high-level international participation in this forum that we are attending today clearly proves the existence of a universal desire to promote closer international cooperation and a deeper understanding of all human rights issues. It also provides an opportunity to enrich the debate and the exchange of viewpoints concerning the various issues in an objective, equitable and balanced manner within a framework of mutual understanding, taking into account the constructive and effective way in which various civilizations and cultures are helping to enrich the concepts of human rights.
The rapidly growing concern for human rights has reached an advanced stage, as illustrated by the creation of a number of United Nations mechanisms and the establishment of many human rights bodies. This can be clearly perceived during the meetings and debates of the Commission on Human Rights, which play a major role in reconciling viewpoints and increasing the effectiveness of the work of its mechanisms in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation in which account is taken of the need to benefit from achievements of various civilizations and cultures in order to promote and enrich the process of the realization of human rights.
We in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcome the role of these mechanisms, as well as the endeavors that are being made by the bodies and organizations concerned, and the international instruments to which they have given rise. However, in spite of these positive developments over the last fifty years, we find that grave violations of human rights are still being committed in many parts of the world. Consequently, there is a need for active endeavors to enrich the concepts of human rights by benefiting from the humanitarian values enshrined in the various religions, civilizations and cultures with a view to enhancing human life and providing a decent human environment. The noble and lofty principles advocated by these cultures could develop and preserve those concepts. Islam, like other religions, is unquestionably playing a leading role in this regard since it has helped, and is still helping, to enrich the concepts of human rights through its noble moral values and principles and its comprehensive way of life in which rights and obligations are defined in a just and equitable manner.
On this basis, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other States members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference are jointly seeking to promote the universality of human rights. Ten years after the adoption in 1990 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, in response to the appeal to enrich the universality of human rights through agreements promoting regional cooperation, the Organization of the Islamic Conference adopted a resolution calling for the drafting of Islamic human rights instruments to supplement and support international endeavors in this field. These instruments will emphasize the need to protect individual and collective rights.
This step at the regional level is being accompanied by diligent endeavors at the domestic level. The Kingdom has made outstanding achievements and is looking forward to further ongoing improvement through its concern for human rights.
In addition to cooperating with this distinguished Commission, a few months ago the Kingdom duly notified the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers that it would welcome a visit by him.
The Kingdom’s support for human rights issues is not confined to their moral aspects; it includes financial support as the Kingdom has contributed to a number of voluntary funds established by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The most recent contribution was made to the Plan of Action for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Kingdom will continue to support.
In fulfillment of its obligations following its accession to the Convention Against Torture, the Kingdom established a committee consisting of various governmental bodies to investigate allegations of torture and other individual abuses.
The public are being made more aware of their human rights through the inclusion of these rights in educational curricula and media programs and emphasis is being placed on the need to apply humanitarian principles and values.
Within the framework of its concern for human rights, the Kingdom has, for the first time, submitted its candidacy for membership of the Commission on Human Rights, which is one of the most important international forums. This clearly demonstrates the importance that my country’s Government attaches to coordination and cooperation among member States for the benefit and protection of human rights.
All these steps confirm the Kingdom’s cooperation and its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights through carefully studied measures within the context of a comprehensive human rights strategy. In this connection, the Government of the Kingdom is taking the following measures:
· Authorization of the establishment of an independent non-governmental national body to help to publicize and protect human rights, to affirm the need for compliance with the regulations pertaining thereto and to advocate the punishment of offenders.
· Establishment of a national governmental body, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and headed by a high-level official, vested with authority to look into all human rights issues.
· Establishment of human rights sections in the governmental agencies concerned, including the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, to emphasize the vital need for compliance with human rights regulations and principles.
· Adoption of new regulations governing the legal profession and legal counseling.
Hence, the Kingdom’s achievements in this field, far from being a response to any external factors, are a natural result of its concern for human rights and its belief in the importance of those rights.
In addition to the above, it is noteworthy that the regulations currently in force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia grant equal rights to citizens and foreign residents. They do not prohibit exercise of freedom of expression and assembly provided that this is neither prejudicial to public order nor detrimental to public morals. There are numerous channels through which individuals can express their opinion in full freedom in accordance with the so-called “open door policy”, which means that, in keeping with the longstanding tradition, all State officials have an obligation to receive citizens and others, listen to their opinions and complaints and endeavor to find appropriate solutions to their problems. There are dozens of governmental and non-governmental bodies which engage in charitable and social activities and receive public support and assistance. In this context, tolerance, including religious tolerance, is a fundamental requirement for the achievement of more effective protection of human rights. We in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia attach great importance to the principle of tolerance. The Kingdom has responded to the special rapporteur on religious intolerance who, in turn, thanked the Kingdom for its cooperation in this regard. Non-Muslim as well as all Muslim residents of the Kingdom enjoy all the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed to them in the relevant articles of the Basic System of Government.
In fact, non-Muslims enjoy full freedom to engage in their religious observances in private. No non-Muslims have ever been subjected to prosecution or punishment because of their religious faith and its is a punishable offence to subject them to any interference or harassment.
The Government of the Kingdom provides all the facilities needed by Saudi and non-Saudi residents in its territory without any distinction or discrimination. It should be borne in mind that the Kingdom has about seven million residents who enjoy all their rights and do not bear any tax burdens. They have the unrestricted right to transfer their savings which, in 1999, amounted to a total of about U.S.$ 17 billion, thereby contributing to the economic development of their countries and mitigating the effects of unemployment in their societies. The Kingdom has also recently promulgated new regulations under which non-Saudis are permitted to own property and invest in local stock market funds.
The regulations in force in the Kingdom protect human rights and strictly prohibit the practice of any form of torture, the perpetrators of which are liable to punishment. This is clearly stipulated in a number of regulations under which any form of aggression against prisoners or detainees is prohibited and disciplinary measures are imposed on civilian or military officials who commit such acts of aggression.
In this connection, I wish to assure this distinguished Commission that all the Kingdom’s laws and regulations apply to both sexes without distinction or exception. The Islamic Shari’a does not discriminate between men and women in regard to their duties and obligations. In fact, in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to which the Kingdom has acceded, its regulations strictly prohibit all forms of discriminatory practices and the competent authorities in the Kingdom are endeavoring to ensure that women enjoy all their legally recognized rights, such as the right to work, the right to health care and social welfare, the right to protection from poverty and the right to free education at all levels. The educational enrolment rate among girls amounts to 95 per cent, which is equivalent to the rate among boys. Moreover, the female illiteracy rate has declined sharply to 15 per cent and we are endeavoring to reduce this rate to the lowest possible level. The State also provides stipends and appropriate accommodation for female students in a manner consistent with their basic needs. Educational expenditure accounts for 25 per cent of the State’s budget, which is one of the world’s highest proportions and represents 9 per cent of GNP. These figures clearly demonstrate the concern that my country’s Government is showing for education, and especially female education, since it constitutes the cornerstone for the advancement and development of society.
We are surprised and concerned to note that some members of the international community find it hard to understand human rights in Islam or have difficulty in accepting the particularities that characterize Islamic and other societies. In some cases, the failure to convey the true concept of human rights in Islam might be attributable to the lack or inadequacy of intercultural dialogue. However, this does not give anyone the right to defame any principles or values that seek to promote the advancement of mankind and preserve human dignity and rights. At the same time, we welcome constructive dialogue among the various civilizations and cultures with a view to ensuring protection of the human person and human rights.
Before concluding my statement, I feel obliged to draw the Commission’s attention to the question of the prisoners, detainees and missing persons of Saudi, Kuwaiti and other nationalities in Iraq, since this humanitarian issue is a matter of great concern not only to us but also to international, regional and local organizations and bodies. The Kingdom calls upon the Iraqi Government to cooperate with the international bodies concerned, particularly the Tripartite Committee, and to participate in their meeting with a view to establishing the whereabouts of those prisoners and securing their release as soon as possible. This issue, in all its aspects, still constitutes a human tragedy and the time has come for the Iraqi Government to find a solution to this tragedy.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I wish to assure you of my Government’s support for your commendable endeavors to achieve the noble aims and objectives of the promotion of human rights in a firm and steadfast manner.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished participants, for your attention.