The UN head of human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called on Saudi Arabia to release women’s rights activists amidst allegations that they are being tortured in detention.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights said in a report that the activists have been subjected to electrocution, flogging, whipping, and sexual assault.
Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet called the charges against the ten detained activists “arbitrary”.
Allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.
Michelle Bachelet, UN Rights Chief
“Today, allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.
“The persecution of peaceful activists would clearly contradict the spirit of the country’s proclaimed new reforms,” she said.
The deputy public prosecutor in Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations that activists are being tortured, calling them “false”.
Saudi Arabia has historically oppressed activists and been tough on women’s rights.
Women must have a male “wali”, an official guardian who is usually their father, brother, uncle or husband.
Women are unable to travel, get married or divorced, sign contracts or get a passport without their male guardian’s consent.
However, in recent months Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced some reforms including lifting the driving ban for women.
Human Rights Probe
Credit: Michelle Bachelet/Flickr
States who stay silent risk abdicating responsibility at a crucial moment and sending a dangerous message that Saudi Arabia can continue to commit egregious abuses without being held to account.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International
Bachelet’s comments come ahead of a joint European initiative led by Iceland that is due to be launched on Thursday.
The initiative will see a host of European countries urge Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record as the Human Rights Council launches a probe into the country’s treatment of activists.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that the initiative was a “rare opportunity”.
“This initiative at the UN Human Rights Council offers a rare opportunity for states to take a strong public stand against the catalogue of human rights violations by the government of Saudi Arabia.
“States who stay silent risk abdicating responsibility at a crucial moment and sending a dangerous message that Saudi Arabia can continue to commit egregious abuses without being held to account,” she said.