Frankly Speaking: Saudi Human Rights Commission chief outlines mandate, ambitions

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Updated 20 May 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Saudi Human Rights Commission chief outlines mandate, ambitions

  • Hala Al-Tuwaijri cites “rapid advances, huge transformation” in women’s empowerment, particularly in the labor force
  • Describes “humbling responsibility” of handling human rights file, highlighting need for judicial reform

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is undergoing a “huge transformation” in relation to women’s empowerment thanks to comprehensive reforms to legal, civil, and social rights, Hala Al-Tuwaijri, the first woman to lead the the country’s Human Rights Commission, has said.

The Kingdom has seen rapid advances in the representation of women in positions of leadership, from Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, the first female Saudi ambassador to the US, to Sara Al-Suhaimi, the first female chair of Tadawul, the Saudi stock exchange.

Indeed, Al-Tuwaijri’s own appointment as president of the Human Rights Commission with the rank of minister back in September 2022 is proof in itself of the tectonic changes underway in Saudi Arabia.

“Those are examples of women who made it to the top. (But) that’s basically the tip of the iceberg,” Al-Tuwaijri told Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.”

“What has actually happened in Saudi Arabia is a huge transformation, especially when it comes to the issue of women’s empowerment.”




Hala Al-Tuwaijri, president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, said: “Yes, unfortunately, there is bias not only against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but generally against people from this region.” (AN photo)

In a freewheeling interview, Al-Tuwaijri discussed the progress she has witnessed since assuming office and addressed the criticisms of Western nations that scrutinize the authenticity of Saudi Arabia’s advancements in human rights.

Nowhere is the transformation in the rights of Saudi women more obvious than in the workplace. Thanks to a slew of reforms and new legal protections, women now make up a significant portion of the labor force at every level.

“The approach was comprehensive,” said Al-Tuwaijri. “We basically expanded all the legal, civil, social rights and looked at legislation, procedures and everything that was actually obstructing women’s progress was actually moved away.

“The biggest achievement, I think, is how women’s empowerment has changed the face of the country. Now you see women everywhere working in every field. The pipelines for women to join the labor force were all unclogged and therefore you see women joining the labor force.

“And this was translated in the data about women’s empowerment and especially women’s participation in the workforce.”

Perhaps the best examples of this transformation are the Saudi women making strides in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — career paths that have traditionally been dominated by men.




Saudi scientist Rayyanah Barnawi (R) became the first Saudi female astronaut to go to space. With her in the picture is fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni. (@Astro_Rayyanah/File))

“I would use the cliche ‘the sky’s the limit,’ but after (first Saudi female astronaut) Rayyanah Barnawi went to space, I think that metaphor does not describe the ambition of Saudi women,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“I think that Saudi women have proved to be efficient and to be up to the positions that they’ve taken.”

Since 2016, the Kingdom has implemented a raft of reforms designed to empower women, from the lifting of the ban on driving and the relaxation of the male guardianship law to measures to combat violence against women and girls.

Although it is a challenging role, Al-Tuwaijri says her appointment to lead the Human Rights Commission reflects how seriously the Kingdom takes its obligations and its commitment to the shared values of the international community.

“This task of handling the human rights file anywhere in the world is a huge responsibility, a humbling one,” she said. “And also, it comes with a package of knowing you’re doing good for the people and for mankind in general. It has its own lofty values and principles as well.

“In Saudi Arabia, it’s no different. I come to work every day knowing that, yes, I’m doing my job on the one hand. But also, I know that this job includes the promotion and protection, the rights of people living in Saudi Arabia and also contributing to the international community and the new trends and approaches to human rights.

“So, the task is not a simple one. It’s not a straightforward one. It’s not that you have a goal and you have to accomplish it at a certain period of time. No, it’s ongoing. It’s dynamic. And it’s always changing, requiring a lot of exposure, communication with others.”

In a September 2023 interview with US broadcaster Fox News, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman admitted to being “ashamed” of the Kingdom’s laws after a retired teacher was sentenced to death for a critical post on social media.

“Shamefully, it’s true. It’s something I don’t like,” the crown prince told Fox News, highlighting his government’s efforts to reform and modernize the judiciary.

“We are doing our best … we have already changed tens of laws in Saudi Arabia, and the list has more than 1,000 items. In the cabinet they have only 150 lawyers, so I’m trying to prioritize the change day by day.”

He added: “But we are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But (under) the jury system, you have to follow the laws and I cannot tell a judge (to) do that and ignore the law, because … that’s against the rule of law. But do we have bad laws? Yes. We are changing that, yes.”




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was interviewed by Fox News’ chief political correspondent Bret Baier on Sept. 21, 2023. (AN Files)

Asked about these comments, Al-Tuwaijri said the crown prince respects the authority of the Kingdom’s judiciary, but that reforms are necessary — measures that the Human Rights Commission is on board with.

“Yes, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince stated that. And I think it’s a verbal affirmation of the big initiatives that are taking place in terms of the transformation in the judicial system,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“Three laws have been issued recently, all of them controlling the lives of people in a positive way — where by controlling we mean there is more clarity in terms of the judiciary and predictability, of course.

“The fact that all of this is taking place while we are also progressing, putting forward initiatives, is more like fixing a plane while you’re flying. And this is precisely what His Royal Highness the Crown Prince indicated.

“But in the same interview you have mentioned, he also showed so much respect for the judiciary. And I think every country that respects itself and its status has to also respect the judiciary.”

The Human Rights Commission is participating in this reform process “so the human rights lens is always applied when it comes to issuing a new law or reviewing one or giving advice on a certain procedure,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“We have to make sure also that everything that’s happening in this journey of legal transformation is actually aligned with the human rights commitment.”

Although its reform agenda is driven by a broader domestic transformation plan under Vision 2030, the Kingdom engages with international agencies and human rights groups to ascertain where improvements can be made — provided they are based on fact rather than hearsay.




Highlights of the speech of Saudi HRC chief Hala Altuwaijri during Global Labor Market Conference, with the topic “Women in the Labor Market”. (X: @HRCSaudi_EN)

“In our mandate, we engage with all kinds of parties, whether it’s state, government organizations or non-government organizations,” said Al-Tuwaijri. “But the basis of this kind of engagement is cooperation, dialogue and constructive efforts.

“We do engage with all of these entities as long as the objective is to have a constructive dialogue that actually is on equal footing and, at the same time, understands the differences between us. This is basically how we function.”

She added: “And of course, we do monitor what the media addresses in terms of human rights issues, that includes everything. So, it depends on our relationship with these entities. We engage directly in cooperation and dialogue.

“And if we find that the reports are not based on facts but just meritless, hearsay or so, then we just focus on working on the ground and trying to continue our strategy and reach our goals and consider that (report) as one of so many reports that are actually politicizing human rights and not really engaging in a cooperative manner.”

In January, the UN held the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, where Al-Tuwaijri emphasized Saudi Arabia’s determination to achieve the highest global standards in promoting and protecting human rights.




Illustration on Saudi Arabia's participation in the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in January 2024. (X: @HRCSaudi_EN)

Despite the significant strides Saudi Arabia has made, several Western commentators have characterized this commitment as a PR stunt. Al-Tuwaijri brushed aside the criticism, pointing to the Kingdom’s positive record.

The Universal Periodic Review “covers a period where there were, on the ground, more than 100 reforms, and those reforms (have been) published,” she said. “They are supported with evidence, with data, and that is an actual manifestation of the reforms.

“Yes, some people would always criticize and some people would be cynical about what happens. But we keep open in terms of cooperation with states, government organizations, non-government organizations about addressing these issues and discussing areas of improvement.

“And for people who doubt, (who say) that it’s a stunt or that we’re not telling the truth, I invite them to come and visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and meet actually with men and women from the Saudi community and listen to how much they have actually benefited from all of these improvements and changes and developments that happened on the ground.”

Asked whether the negative perception of Saudi Arabia among international rights organizations is influenced by political bias or unrealistic expectations, Al-Tuwaijri pointed to the positive feedback the Kingdom has also received.

 

 

“There were more than 135 comments given to the Saudi delegation in Geneva last January. And what was astonishing is that all 135 comments were introduced by acknowledgement of the improvement,” she said.

“It is obvious that compared to the previous report, there is great improvement that was acknowledged by the international community.”

She added: “Yes, unfortunately, there is bias not only against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but generally against people from this region. But we try to overlook the negative implications of that bias and try to see the good in these approaches or reports or criticism and see what we can take from them.”

Al-Tuwaijri acknowledged that changing such attitudes would be a gradual process, but one possible to implement through continuous engagement with friends and critics alike.

“The purpose is to make people see for themselves what is happening in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “Because the narrative is never complete, actually, without people witnessing it with their own eyes.”
 

 


10 investors convicted of violating Saudi financial market rules

Updated 14 June 2024
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10 investors convicted of violating Saudi financial market rules

  • One sentenced to prison, all were ordered to pay 101.7 million riyals in compensation to losses
  • The investors were charged by the Public Prosecution upon referral by the Capital Market Authority
  • The "final decision" was issued by the Appeal Committee for Resolution of Securities Disputes

RIYADH: Ten investors had been convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's Capital Market Law and were ordered to pay the Capital Market Authority a total of SAR 101.7 million in fines and compensation for losses, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday.

In a "final decision" the Appeal Committee for Resolution of Securities Disputes, or ACRSD, sentenced one of the convicted individuals to imprisonment, the SPA report said, citing a statement by the General Secretariat of the Committees for Resolution of Securities Disputes. The statement said the "final decision" was issued by the ACRSD on 11/06/1445 Hijri, corresponding to December 24, 2023.

The amount of SR101.7 million constituted SR670,000 in fines for the ten convicts and SR101 million riyals as compensation from all ten convicts and a female investor for losses resulting from the violations committed in their investment portfolios, the report added.

Named in the ruling were Mish'al bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Naif bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali, Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Ghada bint Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Sami bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Fawaz bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Jameel bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Ali bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, Fawzi bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali, and Fawzia bint Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali.

The convictions were also announced online in detail by the ACRSD and the Capital Market Authority (CMA). According to the CRSD statement, cases were filed against the ten investors by the Public Prosecution upon referral by the CMA.

In a statement posted on its website and on the social media platform X, CMA said: "One of the convicts was held responsible for making an incorrect statement in the announcement published by a listed company in the capital market. This was done to affect the price of the security or to urge others to purchase the security, in addition to his responsibility for neglecting to disclose essential developments in the company."

CMA also said some of the convicts "disclosed internal information relating to the financial position of a listed company in the capital market and the possibility of its bankruptcy," while other convicts engaged in trading based on the illegally disclosed internal information, intending to benefit from it before it was announced and made available to the general public."

In its ruling, the ACRSD ordered sentenced Fawaz bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari to six months in prison and to pay a fine SR330,000. It also banned him from working in companies, shares of which are traded in the Saudi exchange for six years.

Fawaz bin Abdullah was found by the court to have disclosed internal information relating to the financial position of Abdullah A. M. Al-Khodari Sons Co. and the possibility of its bankruptcy.

Also found guilty of disclosing internal information were Jameel bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari and Ali bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari.

Mish'al bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari was ordered to pay to the CMA account the amount of SR. 11,036,678.01 "against the avoided loses as a result of the violations committed in his investment portfolio. He was also banned from working in companies, shares of which are traded in the Saudi exchange for one year.

Sami bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari was told to pay to the CMA SR12,070,268.61; Naif bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali, SR8,482,596.89; Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, SR9,226,817.79; Ghada bint Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari, SR1,370,918.10; Fawzi bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali, SR8,116,873.04; and Fawzia bint Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alali, SR. 187,709.75. All of them were banned from working in companies, shares of which are traded in the Saudi exchange for one year.

Ali bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari imposed only a fine of SR100,000 but banned for two years from working in companies, shares of which are traded in the Saudi exchange.

"One investor to pay to the CMA the total amount of (SR. 50,581,879.82) fifty million five hundred eighty-one thousand eight hundred seventy-nine Saudi Riyals and eighty-two Halalas against the avoided loses as a result of the violations committed in its investment portfolio performed by the convicted person; Fawaz bin Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Alkhudari," the ARCSD announcement said.

The GS-CRSD urged other individuals affected by the abovementioned violations to file a compensation claim with the CMA.

GS-CRSD said it will announce to the public on its website in case any class action would be filed so that other investors affected by such violations could join.


Al-Jubeir reviews Saudi Arabia’s climate efforts at FII Brazil summit

Updated 14 June 2024
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Al-Jubeir reviews Saudi Arabia’s climate efforts at FII Brazil summit

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s climate envoy Adel Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom is one of the largest investors in clean energy and has huge projects aimed at reducing the effects of climate change and initiatives to enhance global climate action.

Al-Jubeir, who is also the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cabinet member, added that these projects include a waste recycling program, Middle East Green Initiative, and one of the largest hydrogen schemes in the world, which is being established in NEOM. 

During the Future Investment Initiative Institute’s Priority Summit in Brazil, he tackled the Kingdom’s role and efforts in energy development, and its goal to be one of the largest exporters of all types of energy, including clean, renewable and traditional energy.

He reviewed the most prominent objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030 and its focus on improving the quality of life, empowering youth and attracting investments to achieve stability, growth and prosperity in the Kingdom.

Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom is working to intensify its communication and rapprochement with the world to face climate challenges, as it is located between three continents, and is surrounded by the most important waterways. It is also one of the important countries in energy markets, and one of the investors in global markets.

FII Priority is a program that consists of summits, initiatives, and resolutions, focusing on humanity’s priorities, concerns, and hopes. The Rio de Janeiro summit is designed to deliver impactful change by transforming ideas into tangible solutions, according to the institute. 


Pilgrims reminded of benefits provided by Tawakkalna app during Hajj

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pilgrims reminded of benefits provided by Tawakkalna app during Hajj

  • The services it provides include alerts for pilgrims, a distress call function, weather updates, help to determine the direction to face the Kaaba for prayer, and prayer timings
  • The app provides support for seven languages: Arabic, English, Filipino, Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Urdu and Hindi

MAKKAH: Authorities have reminded pilgrims that the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority’s Tawakkalna app provides access to several digital services that can help them during Hajj.
The app provides support for seven languages: Arabic, English, Filipino, Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Urdu and Hindi. The services it provides include the latest information and alerts for pilgrims as they perform Hajj rituals; weather updates for Makkah and Madinah provided by the National Center of Meteorology; readings from the Qur’an; help to determine the qibla, the direction to face the Kaaba for prayer; and prayer timings.
Pilgrims can also use Tawakkalna to display their digital Hajj card (Nusuk), while Hajj workers can access entry permits for holy sites. A “rituals” section gives pilgrims with Hajj permit the option to obtain a permit for Umrah, and provides other services such as a “Help Me” section, a distress call function, and a way to check volunteers’ credentials.
Authorities said the app has 32 million users, provides 315 electronic services, and can be used in more than 77 countries. The annual Hajj pilgrimage will begin on Friday, June 14 and continue until Wednesday, June 19.


Saudi leaders send condolences to leader of Malawi over death of vice president

Updated 13 June 2024
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Saudi leaders send condolences to leader of Malawi over death of vice president

  • King Salman: We express to your excellency and your friendly people our deepest condolences and sincere sympathy
  • Deaths of Saulos Klaus Chilima and the others were confirmed on Tuesday when the wreckage of the small military plane in which they were traveling was discovered

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a message of condolence and sympathy to Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera following the deaths of Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima and nine others in a plane crash.

The king wrote: “We received news of the death of the vice president of the Republic of Malawi, Mr. Saulos Klaus Chilima, and his companions, and we express to your excellency and your friendly people our deepest condolences and sincere sympathy.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a similar message to the president, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The deaths of Chilima and the others were confirmed on Tuesday when the wreckage of the small military plane in which they were traveling was discovered in a mountainous region in the north of the country. Contact with the aircraft had been lost the previous day. The victims also included former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi, and three military crew members.

  • With AP

Egypt’s president prays in the Prophet’s Mosque ahead of Hajj

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi prayed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah on Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2024
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Egypt’s president prays in the Prophet’s Mosque ahead of Hajj

  • The annual pilgrimage starts on Friday and El-Sisi will be taking part this year

RIYADH: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi arrived in the Saudi city of Madinah on Thursday and prayed at the Prophet’s Mosque, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

El-Sisi was received by Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the governor of the Madinah region, and a number of local officials on his arrival at Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport.

The annual pilgrimage starts on Friday and El-Sisi will be taking part this year.