03/11/2004, 00.00
Saudi Arabia
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Human rights organization approved along with minor reforms

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – The National Human Rights Association is the first independent pro-human rights organization to receive official approval from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country known for its closed-mindedness and Islamic fundamentalism.

According to its constitution published by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) the 41-member organization, which counts several women among its members, aims to monitor women's rights violations and to report incidences of "oppression, violence, torture and intolerance".

Confirming that the organization will be guided by the country's Islamic value system, the association's chairman, Abd Allah al-Ubaidm told SPA that organization will take its authority from the Koran, the words of the prophet Mohammed, and the Saudi constitution (which is based on the Islamic Shariah law).

Collaborating with other international humanitarian human rights groups, the new Saudi organization will work together with the government to investigate and report on human rights violations, giving constant suggestions for how the country can foster a pro-human rights culture among its citizen body. Chairman Ubaid said he has met with Saudi Prince Abdallah and received a letter from King Fahd wishing him success on the venture.       

Saudi Arabia is one of the most highly criticized countries for its lack of promoting human rights, equality between men and women, democracy and freedom of religion. These first steps forward to improve such conditions are the fruit of years of tension and pressure put on the government. Just weeks ago hundreds of teachers and professionals asked the de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdallah to speed up political reforms in the country.

On Feb.  21 a petition signed by 800 people, including many businessmen and activists, was sent to the government asking for a "broadening of public participation, electing the Shura (consultative) Council and regional councils" and creating trade unions and other institutions of civil society. The signers of the petition hoped to accelerate recommendations made at the second Convention for National Dialog held last December in Mecca. The petition was sent to several government ministers, positions all held by members of the royal family. Royal state officials have promised reforms but must manouver between modern and fundamentalist tendencies. In May and November 2003 Riyadh was hit by a series of fundamentalist-organized bombings, provoking over 50 deaths.          

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