40 Global NGOs Urge U.N. HRC to Hold Saudi Arabia Accountable

Maya Hendler
Jun 26 · 3 min read

Today at the United Nations (UN), the Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard presented her findings into the extrajudicial killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time, Women’s March Global has joined 40 civil society organisations to publish a letter sent to 48 ministries of Foreign Affairs from all regional groups at the UN, urging them to address the human rights violations in the country and urge the Saudi government to immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained, abolish the male guardianship system, and establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The organisations emphasise that:

“No State is above scrutiny for its human rights record”

The organisations highlighted that the provisional release of some activists demonstrate that attention and scrutiny from the Human Rights Council can contribute to positive human rights outcomes on the ground, particularly with respect to the detainment of women human rights defenders. But for this scrutiny to remain effective, it must be sustained.


Over a dozen Saudi women human rights defenders were arrested mid-May 2018 prior to the lift of the driving ban. Reports emerged that many of these women were subjected to torture, including flogging, sexual assault, and electric shocks, yet no perpetrator has been held accountable. In March 2019, 36 countries at the HRC called on Saudi Arabia to release all individuals detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms, including ten women human rights defenders who were individually named.

Since then, several of them were referred to trial after almost ten months of detention without charge. But they are facing unfair trials. Between March and May 2019, seven women were provisionally released, however many more have not been charged nor referred to trial and remain arbitrarily detained.

The authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression has continued. In April 2019, the Saudi government arrested at least fourteen bloggers, writers and family members of women human rights defenders. This included the son of Aziza Al Youssef, one of the women’s rights activists that was provisionally released on 28 March 2019. The next hearing of the women human rights defenders is scheduled for 27 June, where defender Samar Badawi will appear for the first time.

“This is a big step in the right direction however we continue to be gravely concerned about the safety and wellbeing of these activists. It is our hope that this letter urges concrete action from those in power.”
— Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women’s March Global.


Abuses of human rights in Saudi Arabia have deteriorated in other areas, including through the increased use of the death penalty. Many of the 37 individuals who were executed on 23 April 2019 had been tortured into confessing and all the individuals were convicted in unfair trials.

On 19 June 2019, UN Special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard released the report on her investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi which found that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible for his extrajudicial execution.


The letter to 48 governments is part of the ongoing advocacy of national, regional and international civil society organisations to push for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi activists and guarantee that they can continue their activism, exercising their fundamental freedoms, without threat of reprisal.



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Maya Hendler is an Intern at Women’s March Global.

Women's March Global

Women's March Global is dedicated to sharing the stories and voices from our global network of chapters and members around the world.

Maya Hendler

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Women's March Global

Women's March Global is dedicated to sharing the stories and voices from our global network of chapters and members around the world.