Impunity for Human Rights Violations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: An Ongoing Human Rights Crisis

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations have been well documented, and yet impunity prevails. The government has long been accused of ‘whitewashing’ its human rights violations, mainly by funding costly sporting events to garner international support. In line with this, Saudi Arabia launched the economic program Vision 2030 in 2016 to strengthen its position in the international market. This political strategy has been dubbed as another attempt to whitewash its violations by attracting foreign investments and in turn consolidating diplomatic relations. Despite the evident attempt to conceal the realities of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, many foreign governments remain silent in the face of blatant abuses. As a result, the international community plays a key role in the impunity for human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom continues to not be transparent about its investigations of human rights violations, despite the numerous accusations of government partiality and pressure from organizations to take accountability. Saudi human rights defenders are systematically arbitrarily detained and depicted as enemies of the state. The government not only ignores human rights violations in the country but actively represses human rights defenders with its 2017 Law on Combating the Financing of Terrorism and encourages unlawful punishments on its detainees behind closed doors. This contributes to the environment of impunity because, even though few foreign entities are able to witness these abuses, it is known globally and there are little to no repercussions.

The Saudi Human Rights Commission, which is meant to be impartial and independent, has been known to work closely with the government and conspire with them to censor appeals and reports from detainees. The lack of transparent monitoring systems allows for human rights violations to go unchecked. As a result, the Specialized Criminal Court, which is only meant to try terrorist-related cases, can convict innocent activists to lengthy sentences without the need to justify their decisions. Despite the international community pressuring the Kingdom to abolish the death penalty and the use of torture in its prisons, they continue to be widely practiced under the Specialized Criminal Court.

The most notable case of impunity occurring is the state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi. To this day, the international community has been kept in the dark about the court proceedings of his case which led to eight unnamed people being convicted. At the same time, the former royal advisor Saud al-Qahtani, the main suspect for masterminding this assassination, was never tried. As a result, the Saudi government was able to arrest lesser involved people while keeping those close to the Crown Prince untouched: a true act of impunity.


Given the dire situation of the impunity for human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, the following recommendations should be taken into consideration by the government:

  1. Create an independent and impartial monitoring human rights commission that can hold the government accountable for its actions.
  2. Prisoners must be allowed to report mistreatment without needing permission from prison authorities.
  3. Saudi Arabia must share its investigations about the execution of Jamal Khashoggi with human rights organizations and the UN.
  4. The Saudi Arabian government must amend its 2017 Law on Combating the Financing of Terrorism to avoid arbitrary detentions of innocent human rights defenders.
  5. Saudi Arabia should issue a standing invitation for country visits by United Nations special procedure mandate holders to allow for independent and impartial reviews.
  6. Saudi Arabia must ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect human rights.
  7. Judges should be appointed by an independent Court and should be given less discretionary power.


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Briefing paper- KSA impunity