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Saudi Arabia one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights, according to index

Riyadh among most disempowering and unsafe countries from state abuse, finds Human Rights Measurement Initiative
Human rights advocates stage a protest in Washington following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia is one the most disempowering and unsafe countries from state abuse, according to new data published by a human rights metrics organisation. 

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), which is run by activists, researchers and academics, released its annual tracker on Thursday, breaking down scores across a range of rights covering safety from the state, empowerment and quality of life. 

Saudi Arabia scored 2.4 out of 10 on overall safety from the state: the second worst state (behind Mexico) of 36 countries for which there was full data. 

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This was as a result of a poor record on torture, execution, extrajudicial killing, disappearance, arbitrary arrest and the death penalty.  

Regarding the use of the death penalty, HRMI noted that Saudi Arabia saw a marked improvement from a score of 1 in 2019, to 4.2 in its latest round of data. 

This may have been driven by recent royal decrees to end the use of capital punishment against non-violent drug-related crimes, and crimes committed by minors. 

However, critics have questioned the implementation of these decrees, particularly after authorities executed a man last week who was convicted of participating in anti-government protests as a 17-year-old. Despite the year-on-year improvement, the kingdom was still the worst among 39 countries HRMI had death penalty data for.

'MBS tightening grip'

In the empowerment category, Saudi Arabia’s score of one out of 10 was comfortably the lowest among 34 countries measured. 

This was a result of the government’s ban on protests, limits on free expression and civil society organisations, and the inability of citizens to vote or participate in public life. 

HRMI noted that immigrants and people without a legal identity were at particular risk of having their economic and social rights violated in Saudi Arabia.

'Saudi Arabia has much room for improvement and is capable of doing much better,'

- Thalia Kehoe Rowden, a spokesperson for HRMI 

In the quality of life category, full data was not available for the Gulf kingdom. 

“Saudi Arabia has much room for improvement and is capable of doing much better,” Thalia Kehoe Rowden, a spokesperson for HRMI told Middle East Eye. 

She said that the tracker provided a “robust and comparable” metric to observe improvements and deteriorations of human rights across time and between countries. 

“Every country has the same duty to its people, as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, and other international treaties,” she added.

“Saudi Arabia has signed some of those treaties, and not others. We are showing how Saudi Arabia's treatment of people matches up to international standards.”

A number of Middle East countries with poor human rights records were not given scores by the HRMI tracker due to lack of data. Jordan and Saudi Arabia were the only countries included in its Safety from the State index.

The measurement tool has been welcomed by Saudi-focused human rights activists.

“The data collected by [HRMI] perfectly illustrates the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia,” said Julia Legner, head of advocacy at London-based NGO Al-Qst. 

“Ever since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in 2017, he has centralised state power and tightened his grip on the most fundamental rights, with the largest crackdown on freedom of expression in the country’s history [and] wide-scale prosecution of human rights defenders”. 

She said that crackdown included the gruesome 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, state executions following “unfair trials”, and torture perpetrated “by a squad of people directly affiliated with MBS”.