Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of controversy lately, due to the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, before this alleged murder, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, was seen as beacon light of liberalism in the conservative theocracy of Saudi Arabia. Although, relatively speaking, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud—more commonly referred to as MBS—is a progressive leader, Western observers must not ignore the violations of human rights that MBS continues to covertly display. Trump’s clear friendliness with Saudi Arabia is a cause for great concern, I believe Saudi Arabia’s internal corruption and oppressive nature is an issue that deserves more attention.
The Human Rights Watch reports on every nation and presents a summary on that nation’s state of human rights. While this report does not cover every single incident, it does provide a general overview of them. This report provided six major topics for Saudi Arabia: “Yemen Airstrikes and Blockade,” “Freedoms of Expression, Association, and Belief,” “Criminal Justice,” “Women’s and Girls’ Rights,” “Migrant Worker,” and “Key International Actors.” The Human Rights Watch found issues with each of these aspects within Saudi Arabia in 2018.
The war in Yemen is a cause for major international concern. The report states, “As the leader of the nine-nation coalition that began military operations against Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. As of November, at least 5,295 civilians had been killed and 8,873 wounded, according to the U.N. Human Rights Watch office, although the actual civilian casualty count is likely much higher” (1). The Saudi attack on the civilians of Yemen is heartbreaking, and Western mainstream media outlets are hesitant to continue coverage on the war that is occurring.
The next issue covered was “Freedoms of Expression, Association, and Belief.” The report notes several specific incidents and concludes, “Saudi Arabia does not tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam and systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities.” Other than the regular persecution of Muslim minorities, Saudi Arabia also harshly persecutes Christians. The Saudi Arabian criminal justice system regularly sentences cruel and unusual punishments in accordance with Sharia Law. The report found that, “Judges routinely sentence defendants to floggings of hundreds of lashes.” These punishments are in direct parallel to Sharia Law that is adhered throughout Saudi Arabia.
Another major aspect of Saudi Arabian culture that is rarely discussed in public discourse is the deep oppression of women. The report states, “Saudi Arabia maintains a strict public dress code—women must wear a loose black garment called an abaya and headscarf.” It continues, “Women in Saudi Arabia face formal and informal barriers when attempting to make decisions or take action without the presence or consent of a male relative.” The oppression of women in Saudi Arabia is strong and ever-present from the government to the diurnal culture.
The Human Rights Watch report concludes with a summary on international responses to these violations of international law. It reports, “The United States offered only muted criticism of Saudi human rights violations. Meanwhile, as a party to the armed conflict in Yemen, the U.S. provided logistical and intelligence support to Saudi-led coalition forces, including refueling coalition planes on missions in Yemen.” These refueling missions are barely mentioned by the mainstream media and I am puzzled why. The report found a great deal of hypocrisies in Saudi Arabian international policy. It reports, “In April, United Nations member states elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, a body, “dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” despite its record of long-term, systematic discrimination against women. In June, Saudi Arabia was elected as a deputy member of the governing body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), even though unions are not permitted in Saudi Arabia, and abuses against migrant workers remain widespread. Despite its bad human rights record at home and abroad, Saudi Arabia is currently serving its second term as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
These particular circumstances come down to one thing: money. Saudi Arabia is swimming in money. With one of the highest GDP's outside of the Western nations, Saudi Arabia has the potential to be a catalyst for change in the Middle East and Africa, with key investments in nations with struggling infrastructure. And yet, the Saudi crown continues to ignore human rights violations. These violations can only be compared to actions taken in North Korea by a similarly oppressive regime. The United States and the United Nations should strongly encourage Saudi Arabia to increase its efforts to modernize their culture, and if they are not able to end their harsh persecution against women and religious minorities, proper and harsh sanctions must be imposed. Though their current efforts to ‘westernize' have been noted, for a nation of this industrialized capacity, we should be expecting much more.