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Setting the record straight
Saudi defends its human rights laws, and stresses it is clamping down on violence against women.
February 8, 2009 10:54 by Aarti Nagraj
Saudi Arabia has vehemently defended its human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council, even as some Western countries urged the kingdom to stop floggings and amputations, and improve women’s rights.
“We do not claim to be perfect,” said Zaid al Hussein, vice president of Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission, adding that officials were cracking down on men who beat their wives and children.
He also said that a ban on female drivers represented the “wishes of the people” and that as “Islam is the final religion,” there could be no non-Muslim houses of worship in the country.
While Kuwait and China came out in immediate support of the Kingdom, praising the initiatives taken up by the Saudi government, countries like Britain, Canada and Israel criticized the country for curbing women’s rights.
A recent article in Arab News highlighted the story of a 25-year-old woman in Saudi Araboa, who despite being physically abused by her husband, has been struggling to divorce him. The woman said that though she has companied several times to the Ministry of Social Affairs, she has gotten no response from them so far.
A Human Rights Watch report in April last year said that the male guardianship policies in the country treat women like children, and also harm them.
In March last year, on International Women’s Day, a Saudi woman, Wajeha Al-Huwaider put up a video of herself driving in a remote area of the country on YouTube to urge authorities to lift the ban. A group of activists also launched a petition in 2007 demanding the right to drive, and collected around 1,100 signatures. The petition was sent to King Abdullah on Saudi National Day (September 23).
Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC have been criticized in the past for failing to adopt international human rights laws, occasionally resulting in political or trade rifts between the region and foreign countries. Recent reports suggest that the GCC’s human rights laws were partly to blame for the suspension of the EU-GCC trade.
The two regions had been negotiating the terms of the agreement for 20 years.