Saudis Will Let UN Observe Courts
Apr. 01, 2000
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Responding to allegations that Saudi police torture detainees and that defendants are convicted in secret trials, Saudi Arabia has offered to allow the United Nations to observe its justice system, a Foreign Ministry official said Saturday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United Nation's special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, has been invited here to see how the country's courts operate.
He said Saudi Arabia had invited Cumaraswamy, a Malaysian jurist with the United Nations in Geneva, so that he might correct misconceptions concerning its human rights record and judiciary.
Amnesty International released a report on Saudi Arabia this week, saying it had documented patterns of systematic human rights violations. The allegations included torture of detainees in many Saudi police stations and prisons, and defendants being convicted in trials conducted in secret.
On Friday, Amnesty rejected a Saudi claim that the kingdom had responded to such charges by providing information to the rights watchdog.
``I challenge Saudi Arabia to produce the alleged responses,'' said a statement from William F. Shulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
The London-based daily Al-Hayat quoted an unnamed Saudi Foreign Ministry official Friday as saying the kingdom had provided detailed responses to Amnesty in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.
The conservative kingdom, where women are not allowed to drive and must be covered head-to-toe in public, follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia. Courts may hand down sentences of amputation for thieves and public execution for murderers, rapists, sodomites and drug traffickers.
So far this year, at least five people have had their hands or feet amputated and at least 14 people have been beheaded.
Human rights organizations have often criticized the sentences, saying defendants do not receive fair trials and often do not have access to lawyers.