Saudis under fire at UN over women's rights, corporal punishment

Saudi Arabia had its rights record reviewed Friday at the United Nations and came under criticism for women's rights issues in the kingdom as well as the state practise of corporal punishment, dpa reported.

Delegates of various nations criticized Saudi Arabia's "male guardianship system," which they said took away women's autonomy, as well as other legal measures that created inequality between men and women.

Zaid al-Hussain, from the Saudi government's human rights commission, said the kingdom had taken steps to limit domestic violence. UN rights bodies have said these did not go far enough.

Al-Hussain defended his country's position and said that while some improvements to human rights policy needed to be made, the government was striving to act in accordance with sharia or Islamic law.

He said 80 per cent of Saudis did not want women to drive cars and this was the reason for the restriction.

As Saudi Arabia was the protector of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it was justified, al-Hussain explained, in banning the establishment of non-Islamic houses of worship, though at least one Western delegate said non-Sunni Muslims also suffered discrimination.

Saudi Arabia was also criticized for using corporal punishment, specifically amputations, in the prison system, and was accused of employing torture. Furthermore, there were allegations of discrimination and mistreatment of migrant workers, who number close to 7 million in the country.

Praise was issued for its health system, which also served many migrants, and its humanitarian contributions outside its borders. Furthermore, progress was noted in Saudi efforts to combat human trafficking.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sees countries explain their rights record in front of a general assembly and file an official report on the progress they have made. Member states can comment or make recommendations to the reviewed country's delegation.

Reports are also filed by the UN's human rights office and non-governmental groups.

So far, in just over a year, the UPR, introduced by the Human Rights Council which was established in 2006, has reviewed about 55 countries. Each nation is checked once every four years and the council issues a list of recommendations with each review.

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