Saudi Arabia: Alkarama presents alarming situation of torture to UN Committee members


As a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), Saudi Arabia is reviewed by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT), which assesses the country's compliance with its obligations under the UNCAT. In view of Saudi Arabia’s second review  on 22 and 25 April 2016, Alkarama provided the Committee members with an extensive report on the systematic practice of torture in the country and will personally brief the CAT members on its key concerns during the Committee’s 57th session in Geneva (Switzerland). After analysing the information sent by NGOs and the State in its report, the CAT will engage in a constructive dialogue with the State aiming to improve the situation of torture.

A culture of impunity nourished by the absence of a definition of torture

In its report, the Saudi government claims that torture is forbidden through provisions of Sharia law. While Sharia law generally condemns torture, Alkarama notes that neither Saudi legislation nor Sharia law provide an explicit definition of torture, let alone set out respective punishments. Therefore, it is up to the judges to determine which actions constitute torture and the penalties applicable. This is particularly worrying as in Saudi Arabia, the judiciary is not independent from the executive, as all State powers are concentrated in the hands of the monarch and his close entourage. In practice and based on hundreds of cases of torture documented, Alkarama confirms that torture is systematically practiced in Saudi Arabia, while the perpetrators of torture go unpunished, creating a climate of total impunity.

Lack of fundamental safeguards and confessions made under torture

Given the absence of a penal code and the lack of clear legal provisions in Saudi domestic law, torture is frequently used against detainees during investigative procedures in order to obtain confessions, especially by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIPP) and the General Intelligence Directorate or Mabahith. In most cases documented by Alkarama, victims were taken to unknown locations where they were held in solitary confinement and incommunicado for extended periods of time, tortured and forced to sign confessions that are subsequently admitted at court and used as the sole basis of convictions. They were also denied their rights to call their families, the right to legal assistance, the right to medical treatment and, if applicable, consular assistance.

Anti-terrorism law and repression of civil society

The anti-terrorism law enacted in 2014 defines terrorism in extremely vague terms, often allowing for the criminalisation of acts falling under the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In addition, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) set up in 2008 to try cases of terrorism has been increasingly used to prosecute acts of peaceful dissent in proceedings that violate fair trial guarantees. In the past years, the cases documented by Alkarama have shown that, after arrest, human rights defenders, activists or political opponents are subjected to unfair trials and sentenced to long prison terms on the basis of confessions extracted under torture.

In view of this situation, Alkarama calls upon the CAT to raise these issues with the government of Saudi Arabia during the country’s review and requests that the State implements the recommendations that the Committee makes.

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