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Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has often been subject to heavy criticism by governments and human rights groups.

Amnesty International’s 2015/16 report provides the following overview of Saudi Arabia’s human rights performance in 2014:

The government continued to severely restrict freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The authorities arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics, including under the 2014 anti-terror law, often after unfair trials. Some of those detained were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common. Unfair trials continued before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), a special court for hearing terrorism-related cases, with some trials resulting in death sentences. Discrimination against the Shi’a minority remained entrenched; some Shi’a activists were on death row awaiting execution. Women faced discrimination in law and in practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. Thousands of migrants were summarily expelled, many to countries where they were at risk of serious human rights violations. The authorities used the death penalty extensively and carried out more than 150 executions.

Amnesty International recently reiterated its concern about the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, claiming that more than nearly 100 executions have been carried out during the first five months of 2016.

The UK Government has been accused of muting its criticisms on human rights because of the country’s importance as an ally and trading partner. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia remains a human rights ‘priority country’ for the UK Government. Its latest update (published 21 April 2016), part of the 2015 Human Rights and Democracy report, can be accessed here

Recently, there have been allegations that UK-supplied armaments have been used by the Saudi armed forces in the context of their military operation in Yemen to commit violations of international humanitarian law and that UK personnel are close to the Saudi-led coalition’s targeting decisions. The UK Government says that it has faith in the UK’s export licensing regime to prevent that from happening, and that UK advisers are not part of the coalition but do sometimes advise on how to comply with international humanitarian law.

For further information about this, see the Library briefing Yemen at war (published 26 May 2016). 

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