Raid Qusti, Arab News
RIYADH, 6 June 2007 — The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced here yesterday that it was working with the Labor Ministry to publish pamphlets that would inform laborers of their rights under Saudi law.
The aim of the pamphlet is to address concerns that laborers are unaware of the legal mechanisms that are afforded to them in the Kingdom. The pamphlet also aims to spread awareness among employers, informing them of penalties for breaking labor laws and violating workers’ rights.
“We are working hard on the issue with the Labor Ministry,” said Muhammad Al-Khunaizan, HRC board member.
The official did not mention when the pamphlets would be released, but stated that they were being processed.
The Saudi labor sector has seen numerous violations of guest-worker rights, including non-payment of salaries for months or failure of sponsors to provide room and board as agreed upon.
A report published by the National Society for Human Rights, another rights body in the Kingdom, suggested that the sponsorship law in the Kingdom be eradicated altogether and the government should step in to fill the role currently held by individual Saudi sponsors.
In another development, HRC officials requested the US State Department to publish a booklet or pamphlet printed in Arabic to be given to all Saudi travelers, including students, to the United States.
According to HRC officials, the aim of the proposed pamphlet is to “specify the rights of Saudi travelers that would avoid harassment.”
The request was made to Erica Barks-Ruggles, deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. The US official and her accompanying delegation met Turki Al-Sudairi, president of HRC, and several members of the board. This is her fourth visit to the Kingdom and her second this year.
Board members also brought to the attention of the visiting official the matter of a Saudi student, Mishaal Al-Rabeah, whose visa was canceled by US immigration authorities on arrival in the US recently.
“This is just one of the problems Saudi students face when arriving in the United States. The visa, issued by the US Embassy in Riyadh, was canceled. The error was not on his part,” a board member told the US official.
The US official said she was not aware of the incident but would investigate.
HRC also announced that Saudi women would be appointed for the first time in its next board reshuffle after three years.
“God willing, the next board will have Saudi women,” said Al-Sudairi. “We are currently studying it. And there is a big possibility that it will take place.”
He said that as with all new board members, the appointment would come from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
The current board consists of 24 members — 18 full-time members and six part-time members. The president is appointed by the king and has a rank of minister.
Al-Sudairi also said that a Saudi woman, a former civil service employee, was hired by HRC to deal with issues related to women in Riyadh.
He said part of HRC’s support of Saudi women has recently included the establishment of two women’s sections in HRC offices in the Eastern Province.
Among the issues discussed at the meeting between the HRC and the US officials were ways to identify areas of cooperation in the judicial system and commercial sector.
The US delegation evinced keen interest in the progress of HRC regarding its human rights awareness campaigns targeted at the people living in the Kingdom. HRC officials, on their part, said that they were doing so “gradually” in the Kingdom, bearing in mind the conservative nature of its people and trying carefully not to make moves that would backfire.
The US officials said they were seeking to specify common areas of cooperation in the judicial system.
They specified their interest in the development of commercial law in Saudi Arabia, especially after the Kingdom joined the World Trade Organization. They also proposed that a curriculum be established in Saudi universities that would educate students on commercial law.
HRC officials and the US delegation also discussed the subject of human trafficking