2004 Press Release
03/07/2004 First independent human rights organization in Saudi Arabia Forty-one men and women charged with defending the rights of Saudi citizens
[Washington, DC] -- For the first time, Saudi Arabia has established a non-governmental human rights organization to uphold the basic rights guaranteed to its citizens. The National Human Rights Association (NHRA), which will implement international human rights charters signed by Saudi Arabia, will also include a special panel to monitor violations of women's rights.
The NHRA consists of 41 members who will work with international human rights organizations and issue periodic reports on the progress of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan stated: "The establishment of this human rights organization is just another step in Saudi Arabia's integrated reform program. Institutions such as these are the foundation for successful and lasting reforms."
The formation of the NHRA follows on the heels of the first-ever human rights conference in Saudi Arabia which was held in Riyadh last October. There is already a human rights committee at the Consultative Council, Saudi Arabia's 120-member advisory body. Another government-run human rights body will soon be established, and it will work to implement government decisions regarding human rights.
Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has embarked upon a comprehensive economic, educational, and political reform agenda to promote a vibrant economy and broader civic and political participation of our citizens.
Specific measures taken to implement the reform agenda are discussed below and can be found in the ISSUES section of this web site, under Human Rights and Reform .
Saudi Arabia is opening up its economy to attract investment and generate opportunities for its citizens.
In November 2002, Saudi Arabia announced plans to privatize twenty (20) major sectors. Since that announcement, Saudi Telecom has been partially privatized, and the energy sector has been opened up to foreign investment. The postal system is in the process of being privatized, and future plans include the privatization of the National Insurance Company (NCCI) and Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA).
A new Insurance law was passed on July 14, 2003 to provide a legal structure governing insurance.
A Copyright law was passed on June 9, 2003 to comply with the provisions of the World Trade Organization's agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.
A Capital Markets law was passed in July 2003 to regulate the Saudi stock market, and a governing/oversight body is being established to regulate stock market activity.
The energy sector has been opened up to foreign investment. Agreements worth more than $7 billion have been reached with international oil companies for investments in the energy sector. These are the first of what is expected to be a total of more than $25 billion of investments over the next few years.
A new Commercial Court System is being developed to ensure the efficient resolution of commercial disputes.
Educational Reform and Countering Extremism
Education is the key to future economic and political success for Saudi Arabia. Textbooks and curricula are being updated. Two pilot programs have been established (in Riyadh and Jeddah) to experiment with new teaching methods, while new teacher-training manuals have been produced.
Two thousand imams who have violated prohibitions against the preaching of intolerance have been suspended from their positions, and 1,500 have been referred to educational programs.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has initiated a three-year program to educate imams and monitor religious education to ensure that extremism and intolerance are purged.
On January 22, 2004, Crown Prince Abdullah's Foreign Policy Advisor Adel Al-Jubeir and Secretary of the Treasury John Snow held a joint press conference to announce that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United States had asked the UN Sanctions Committee to designate four branch offices of the Al-Haramain Foundation as financial supporters of terrorism. The branches are located in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan and Indonesia and subject to the laws and regulations of those countries.
Saudi Arabia has reviewed its charities and established new regulations to prevent charitable funds from being misused by evildoers. Saudi charities are currently barred from sending any funds abroad, pending the full functioning of an oversight body, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, set up in March, 2004.
Saudi Arabia has adopted new laws to combat money laundering and terror financing, Rules Governing Anti Money Laundering and Combating Terrorist Financing, May 2003. The Kingdom has implemented all 40 recommendations regarding money laundering and all 8 regarding terror financing of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
On September 21-25, 2003, Saudi Arabia hosted a team from the FATF to perform a joint evaluation on the procedures the Kingdom has taken to combat money laundering and terror financing. Saudi Arabia's new laws in this area are now amongst the strictest in the world.
A Financial Intelligence Unit has been established to track suspicious flows of funds. Accounts have been frozen and suspects arrested.
Saudi Arabia and the United States established a joint task force in August 2003 to deal with terror financing. This task force operates as an integrated unit and brings the resources of both governments together. This task force is in addition to the joint task force established in May 2003, to fight terrorism.
Building Civic Participation
A Center for National Dialogue has been established to bring together thinkers to publicly discuss issues of concern to Saudi Arabia and to provide recommendations for dealing with the challenges the country faces in the economic, social and political arenas. So far, two rounds of talks have taken place. In his address to the European Policy Centre on February 19, 2004, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said: "The Center for National Dialogue was established with a broad agenda including, but not limited to, reassessment of the standards of education; dealing with the emergence of extremism; the essential role women should play in society; and institutional development. Diversity and tolerance are the guiding principles".
An association for journalists has been established, and associations for other professional and trade groups are expected to be established.
An independent, private human rights organization has been established.
Broadening Political Participation
King Fahd issued a number of royal decrees on November 29, 2003, extending the services of a number of officials, re-forming the membership of the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals, and amending two articles of the Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura ). The amendment gives greater legislative powers to the Shura Council, including that of drafting new legislature for submission to the Council of Ministers.
On October 13, 2003 the cabinet approved plans to streamline local and municipal governments, including the establishment of Municipal Councils in which half of the members are elected, and half appointed.
Student councils are being set up in public schools to begin educating young Saudis about civic responsibilities and participatory governance.