CSOs and governments criticise systematic violations during Saudi Arabia's UPR review


Ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), civil society organisations criticised the Saudi authorities for systematic human rights violations in the kingdom. Since the last review in 2013, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has deteriorated. Submissions made by civil society organisations highlighted ongoing religious discrimination, the use of the death penalty and capital punishment, the kingdom’s counter-terror system and restrictive legal framework, human rights defenders and the laws used to target them and activists and dissidents, torture, women’s rights, civil society space and organisations, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression and opinion, and the arrests of journalists, bloggers, and critics of the government.

During the UPR session which took place on 5th November 2018, other governments criticised the Saudi Arabia for its ongoing use of the death penalty, expressed grave concerns about the targeting of human rights defenders and restrictions on civil society space, the ongoing violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and called upon the authorities to fully investigate the murder of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), at a side event held during the UPR, issued a statement about the situation faced by women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. The statement drew attention to the ongoing targeting of women human rights defenders including the use of national laws, the continued use of the guardianship system to restrict women human rights defenders and the restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia through the civil society law. 

On 26th October 2018, GCHR reported that over 170 civil society organisations called on the international community, including the UN, multilateral and regional institutions as well as democratic governments committed to the freedom of expression, to take immediate steps to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for grave human rights violations. The organisations also convened a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the recent wave of arrests and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices in Saudi Arabia. They also called for Saudi Arabia to be removed as a member of the UN HRC.

Over 240,000 people have signed a petition created by Global Women’s March and other members of the Free Saudi Women coalition calling for women’s rights activists to be freed in Saudi Arabia.


The brutal murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2nd October 2018 shocked the world. Khashoggi was a prominent journalist and government critic who worked for the Washington Post. He had been critical of the Saudi authorities in the months leading up to his death. Initially, Saudi authorities denied any knowledge of his disappearance, subsequent murder and alledged dismemberment of the body, but after two weeks, they eventually admitted that he had been killed within the Saudi consulate, following pressure from international organisations, governments and the UN. Before the authorities admitted their involvement in his murder, the Washington Post reported that Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had alleged that Khashoggi was an Islamist in a phone call with US President Donald Trump.

However, although the Saudi authorities admitted their involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, their allegation that those who committed were rogue operatives was condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Executions who described the killing as an extrajudicial execution.

Khashoggi’s death was one of many examples of journalists, human rights defenders and activists who have been targeted by the Saudi Arabian authorities in 2018. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, in a statement released on 2nd November on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, there have been rampant arrests of human rights defenders including journalists, scholars and women’s rights activists, internal repression and the potential imposition of the death penalty on demonstrators. Saudi Arabia, through its involvement in the conflict in Yemen, has also committed acts which may amount to international crimes in Yemen, according to a report by the UN Group of Eminent Experts.