Geneva, Jan. 17 — UN Watch expressed disappointment that Saudi Arabia today used its first appearance before a UN expert panel on women’s rights to mask the pervasive discrimination against women in the desert kingdom. “Instead of sending massive delegations to the UN to pretend that Saudi women are not treated like chattel, Riyadh should focus on reforming the kind of discriminatory laws that sentence women rape victims to 90 lashes, and double if they appeal,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group.
As a newly elected member of the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, said Neuer, “it is high time for Saudi Arabia to live up to its solemn undertakings under international law to respect women’s equality.”
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an expert body composed of 23 experts on women’s issues from around the world, mandated to watch over progress for women in countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which as of 2000 includes Saudi Arabia.
In oral testimony today, Dr. Lubna Al-Ansari, a woman from the Saudi delegation, responded to “misconceptions,” saying that “women are flourishing in different areas … Whether she can have a passport and travel, the answer is yes. We can travel on our own. … For instance, for me, I have permission from my husband, so I can move freely and go wherever I want.” Neuer said that “this response speaks for itself.”
In its written testimony, the Saudi government said that “The Holy Koran and Immaculate Sunna [upon which Saudi law is based] contain unequivocal rulings in favor of non-discrimination between men and women, desiring that women enjoy the same rights and duties on a basis of equality.” The Saudi report also said that “the laws of the Kingdom require redress for a woman if she is subject to discrimination or injustice.”
“These claims of equality for women in Saudi Arabia are preposterous,” said Neuer. “Everyone knows that women in Saudi Arabia suffer from systemic discrimination at home, at their job, and in the courts. That women victims of sexual violence are themselves punished with lashes only underscores the dire situation of women’s inequality in Saudi Arabia.”