HRW report: Foreign workers face abuses in Saudi Arabia
Foreign workers, who comprise one-third of Saudi Arabia’s population, face torture, forced confessions and unfair trials when they are accused of crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.
According to the new report, the abuses against foreign workers "demonstrate appalling flaws in the kingdom’s criminal justice system as a whole. If the Saudi government is serious about reform, this would be a good place to begin with, HRW stated.
The report shows the exploitative labor conditions many workers encounter, and the failure of the justice system to provide redress.
Human Rights Watch documented how foreigners detained in the Saudi kingdom have been denied consular visits and forced to sign confessions that they could not understand. The report includes cases of beheading in which the embassies and families of the condemned persons were not notified about the executions until after they were implemented.
“Saudi Arabia’s troubles run much deeper than the terror attacks that are claiming the lives of innocent civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “The abuses we found against foreign workers demonstrate appalling flaws in the kingdom’s criminal justice system as a whole. If the Saudi government is serious about reform, this would be a good place to start.”
In 2003, the Saudi authorities invited a Human Rights Watch team to visit the kingdom for discussions with officials, but have not responded to many requests for permission to carry out field research, including meeting with victims of abuse. The interviews for the report were conducted mostly in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines with workers who had recently returned from Saudi Arabia.
The report documents the failure of Saudi Arabia to enforce its own labor laws in the face of significant abuses of foreign workers by their employers.
“We found men and women in conditions resembling slavery,” said Whitson. “Case after case demonstrates that the Saudis are turning a blind eye to systematic abuses against foreign workers.”
Human Rights Watch also examined gender discrimination, using data obtained directly from Asian women who had recently employed in Saudi Arabia. The report highlights the widespread practice of forced, around-the-clock confinement of women in poor conditions.
In one case, about 300 women from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, cleaning hospitals in Jeddah. At the end of each work day, they were returned to crowded, dormitory-style housing, with 14 women sharing one small room lined with bunk beds. The doors to these rooms were locked from the outside, denying the women any freedom of movement for the two or three years of their contracts.
Human Rights Watch said that forced confinement of workers, mainly female workers, should be a criminal offense under Saudi law. (menareport.com)
© 2004 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
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