Saudi Human Rights Record Remains Terrible: Canadian Report

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OTTAWA — Canada's Department of Global Affairs has released a heavily redacted version of its 2015 report on human rights in Saudi Arabia, saying there have been some minor improvements in the kingdom.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion promised to release the document this week after he green-lighted the export of Canadian-built light armoured vehicles to the Saudis, part of a contract signed by the previous Conservative government.

The report says despite some progress, the kingdom's record on human rights remains dismal, with increasing numbers of executions, restrictions on basic rights, lack of due process and fair trial rights and a lack of equal rights for women, children and migrant workers.

stephane dion
Stephane Dion speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

It points out that in January, Saudi Arabia executed 47 people accused of terrorism-related offences, including a prominent Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, which led to a freeze on relations with Iran, its rival regional powerhouse.

The report also says the oil price slump has hit the country hard, resulting in substantially lower revenues and a deficit of $100 billion.

Resulting economic measures, including cuts to fuel subsidies could promote some civil unrest, it says, although the response has been muted so far.

"Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. (sentence redacted) It faces a deteriorating regional security situation; a growing domestic terrorist threat; including from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; a young and expanding population; growing unemployment and domestic economic pressures resulting from its heavy reliance on the oil sector and the dramatic decrease in oil prices," the report said.

Some minor improvements

It pointed to some brighter spots.

"During the reporting period, there were modest reforms in specific areas of concern, such as women's political empowerment," it said.

Women were allowed to run in municipal elections and "despite predictions to the contrary, 21 were elected."

"In addition, a new law permitting the establishment of civil society organizations was approved by the Saudi government, establishing a legal framework for the registration, administration and supervision of CSOs."

Despite close monitoring, social media provides a forum for dialogue on topics that can include corruption, state failures and social issues. The country is also opening a number of family courts allowing women better access to the justice system.

The country remains a place of absolute rule by the Al Saud family, with no political parties and a religious orthodoxy rigorously enforced by religious police.

Women are forbidden to drive and generally need approval of a male guardian to travel, study, marry or work under a so-called guardian system.

Liberals defend Saudi arms deal

Most of the analysis section of the report was blacked out, including the final two pages of the document.

Both Dion and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have defended the export of billions of dollars worth of armoured vehicles to the Saudis, saying they are obliged to honour a contract signed by the previous government.

Dion says there are no indications the Saudis would use the vehicles against their own people, although Amnesty International has expressed fear they could be used in Saudi Arabia's small-scale war in Yemen.

Trudeau and Dion have both promised tougher scrutiny of any future sales.

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