Saudi Arabia: UN Special Rapporteur to visit the kingdom

Arab News / AP
Yakin Ertürk, the special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence Against Women, will officially visit the Kingdom for 10 days starting today to gather first-hand information on violence against women in the Kingdom.
Ertürk, accompanied by four other UN human rights experts, is to visit the Kingdom on an invitation extended by the Saudi government. This is the second time that Saudi Arabia has allowed a UN special rapporteur to visit the Kingdom.
The team is expected to visit Riyadh and Jeddah, and other regions to “gather first-hand information on the question of violence against women in the country,” as stated in a UN press release.

A source told Arab News that the team would divide their time between meeting government officials and independent human rights activists. The team is scheduled to meet representatives from the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC) and officials from the Social Affairs Ministry.

The UN press release stated that the rapporteur would discuss different types of violence against women in Saudi Arabia as well as the initiatives undertaken by the Kingdom to address these problems.

Based on the information obtained during the visit, Ertürk will present a succinct brief to the seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. She will also present a complete report containing her findings and recommendations to a Human Rights Council session later.

UN special rapporteurs are independent experts elected by the United Nations Human Rights Council and are tasked with investigating special themes, such as violence against women, or countries affected by human rights crises, such as Palestine.

The special rapporteurs who visit countries need official permission, and are involved in fact finding missions and discussions with foreign governments. The first UN special rapporteur to visit the Kingdom was Param Cumaraswamy, who visited in 2002. Cumaraswamy was tasked with investigating the independence of judges and lawyers.

From 2004 to 2006, there were 1,429 cases of domestic violence with women being the majority of victims, According to the National Society of Human Rights. Physical and psychological abuse represents 36.5 percent of these cases.

Samira Al-Ghamdi, a Jeddah-based psychologist and founding member of the Society for Protecting the Family, said there are multiple factors behind violence against women in Saudi Arabia. She added that the main problem is that the rights of women are unclearly stated by the government.

“Our religion is very clear about women’s rights in Islam but its to do with our false interpretation of Islam,” she said.

Al-Ghamdi said that there is a lot of talk nowadays about violence against women and that the majority of it is “much ado about nothing.” She added that there is no clear system to deal with domestic violence.

“There is no certain efficient mechanism yet. All that is being done now is merely individual efforts by the NSHR or the HRC or a committee here and there. We need a national strategic plan with clear goals to achieve in three to 10 years,” she added.

Ertürk’s visit takes place after the Saudi government was questioned on Jan. 17 by a UN organization, entitled Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW questioned the Kingdom about the first Saudi report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

By: Ebtihal Mubarak

30 January 2008

Source: Arab News