Saudi women journalists attending a news conference for the UN Commission on Human Rights in October 2002.
Consider two current events.
First, on June 19, the new 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council opened its first session in Geneva. The new body replaces the discredited 53-nation Human Rights Commission (see photo above) that was viewed by many as, at the very least, ineffectual in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect human rights on a global basis.
Many critics considered the main reasons for its ineffectiveness its extreme politicization coupled with the farcical nature of its membership—recall the commission presidency was recently held by Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s Libya.
However, despite the assurance of many—including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who piously declared at the inaugural meeting that “the eyes of the world—especially the eyes of those whose human rights are denied, threatened or infringed—are turned towards this chamber and this Council”—that the new body would be different from its predecessor, early indications are not promising. Despite the solemn assurance by the General Assembly that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” the Assembly then proceeded to give the lie to its own statement by electing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a founding leader of the new body.
Second, on March 29, 2006, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was sentenced to 30 years in prison in federal district court in Northern Virginia for plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. Abu Ali was valedictorian of his class at the Islamic Saudi Academy high school in Alexandria. The Saudis opened the school in 1984 to instruct children of Saudi diplomats in the Wahhabi religion of their homeland, which rejects any innovation that occurred after the 3rd Century of Islam.
Both these current events relate to what the administration has called our "good Middle East ally and friend." Yet this ally and friend has become the breeding ground for so many enemies of America (including, of course, the majority of the 9/11 mass murderers). Why are we throwing Texas barbeques for these people?
Here are a few factoids, all occurring since 9/11. Consider them in light of the president's quite proper post-9/11 warning to those states that are hostile to our fundamental rights. We think they should give us pause.
Stuart Levey, Under Secretary at the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence of the Treasury Department, testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on July 13, 2005. He had this to say about continued Saudi funding of terrorism:
“Wealthy Saudi financiers and charities have funded terrorist organizations and causes that support terrorism and the ideology that fuels the terrorists' agenda. Even today, we believe that Saudi donors may still be a significant source of terrorist financing, including for the insurgency in Iraq. Saudi Arabia-based and funded organizations remain a key source for the promotion of ideologies used by terrorists and violent extremists around the world to justify their hate-filled agenda.”
The Saudi Arabian Women's Rights blog contains the following excerpt from Parvin Darabi's "I am a Moslem Woman." The author is Iranian, but the Saudi rights bloggers insist that exactly the same conception of women's rights obtains in the Wahhabi kingdom:
Islam believes and promotes only one relationship between male and female and that is the relation of lust: "If a man and a woman are alone in one place, the third person present is the devil". Prophet Mohammed.
I am not allowed to swim, ski, ride a bike, dance, learn to play musical instruments, practice gymnastics, or any other sport. I am not even permitted to watch men play sports, either in the stadium and/or on television.
I am not permitted to participate in Olympic games. From age 7, I am segregated from all males in and out of my extended family. My father, grandfather, uncles, brothers or my male cousins are not allowed to be present at any ceremonies for my accomplishments. They will not be allowed to participate in my birthday parties.
I have to study under female teachers and professors. However, since women of prior generations were not allowed to go to school, there are not that many qualified women teachers and professors. Male professors must teach me from behind a wall.
I am to be treated by female doctors. Go to female dentists. And if there are none, then I have to go without or I must be examined through some sort of divider."
On April 3, 2006, Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence agency, (al-mabahith), arrested one Rabbah al-Quwai’i, 24, on charges of “doubting the [Islamic] creed” and for “harboring destructive thoughts.” Al-Quwai’i had been a frequent contributor to Internet discussion forums and was the editor for the media section of the Saudi Internet forum “A Body of Culture,” (Jasad al-Thaqafa). His writings questioned Wahhabi doctrine and in particular criticized thinking that in his view contributed to acts of violence by al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.
In November 2005 a Saudi court sentenced high school chemistry teacher Muhammad al-Harbi to forth months in prison and 750 lashes for talking to his pupils about a number of current topics, such as Christianity, Judaism and the domestic causes of terrorism. In response to the bomb attacks on foreign and Saudi civilians in Riyadh in May 2003, al-Harbi had reportedly discussed these subjects with students and posted signs against terrorism at his school. Al-Harbi also encouraged his students to engage in critical thinking to resolve apparent differences of meaning between the text of the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. Saudi Arabia asserts that since February 2002 it has begun a review of its curricula, and that a number of school textbooks have since been altered. But al-Harbi is only one of several wayward educators to have been punished for questioning Wahhabi doctrine.
In December 2005, the Greater Shari`a Court of Dammam sentenced Abdul-Latif Noushad, an Indian citizen, to have his right eye gouged out in retribution for a brawl in which a Saudi citizen was injured. Noushad worked at a shop near a gas station outside Dammam. A witness to an altercation told Human Rights Watch that Noushad had told a Saudi customer that he would not be able to obtain a refund once he used the jumper cables he had just purchased. When the Saudi man proceeded to demand a refund after using the cables, Noushad advised him to wait for the (Saudi) shop owner. The witness said the Saudi replied that he could not wait, and lunged at Noushad. In the course of the ensuing struggle, Noushad struck the Saudi on the head with the cable, hitting his eye. Bystanders called police, who arrested Noushad on the Saudi's testimony. Noushad protested that he was acting in self-defense. The eyewitness, who was also from India, told Human Rights Watch that the court refused to admit his testimony, which would have corroborated Noushad's account. The judge said that non-Saudis may not testify against Saudis.
In March 2005, Freedom House published its most recent report on human rights. The report, "The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies 2005," lists Saudi Arabia as one of the "world's 18 worst regimes." It includes detailed summations of the dire situations in Belarus, Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Haiti, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Among these countries, only Saudi Arabia appears to be a "dear ally and friend." Here are excerpts from Freedom House's report:
* Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia…. Islam is Saudi Arabia's official religion, and all citizens are required by law to be Muslims. ...
* Academic freedom is restricted in Saudi Arabia, and informers monitor classrooms for compliance with limits on curricula, such as a ban on teaching Western philosophy and religions other than Islam...
*Saudi citizens do not enjoy freedom of association and assembly...
* The judiciary lacks independence from the monarchy. The king appoints all judges on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, and the monarchy serves as the highest court of appeal. The rule of law is regularly flouted by the Saudi regime…. Secret trials are common, and political opponents of the regime are often detained without charge and held for indefinite periods of time. Allegations of torture by police and prison officials are frequent, though access to prisoners by independent human rights and legal organizations is strictly limited.
*In 2004, a number of democracy advocates in the kingdom mounted a petition campaign in favor of reforms. In March, the government arrested 13 reformers who had called for establishing a constitutional monarchy and holding parliamentary elections. Three - Ali al-Doumani, Dr. Matrouk al-Faleh, and Dr. Abdullah al-Hamed - were tried for creating political instability after refusing to sign a document renouncing their reform efforts. The trial got off to a rocky start in August, when the judge suspended initial hearings after hundreds of supporters of the defendants rallied outside the courtroom.
*Saudi Arabia formally abolished slavery in 1962 – a tad late, we think -- but Saudi citizens, with government help, continue hold people to forcible and indefinite service. In 2003, reports the Little Green Footballs blog, a Saudi man published a want ad offering to trade his 1991 Dodge for a female slave from Sri-Lanka. Here is an excerpt from a detailed piece by Joel Mowbray in the Feb. 24, 2003 issue of National Review:
"As part of its massive PR offensive, the House of Saud is trying to convince the world that its treatment of women is improving. But a first-hand witness would see a far different reality: women who are literally locked inside homes, paid little or nothing as domestic servants, worked up to 20 hours per day, and verbally and physically abused. This sad state of affairs exists not just in Saudi Arabia, but in Saudi homes right here in the United States. But there are people who know all about it, and even allow the practice to continue unabated on American soil: the U.S. State Department. Saudi abuse of domestics occasionally makes news in the Western press—but only when it happens outside of the kingdom.
The Saudi princess who pushed her Indonesian maid down a flight of stairs in Orlando achieved some notoriety, but the case fizzled because State refused to give a visa to the victim—she had traveled back to Indonesia to attend her mother's funeral—who was scheduled to testify in the criminal trial. What didn't get much coverage: after the prosecutor's case crumbled without the star witness, the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Tens of thousands of women are abused in Saudi Arabia each year. According to the Saudi government, some 19,000 domestic servants—almost exclusively foreign women working in the kingdom as maids—escaped from Saudi homes in the twelve months prior to March 2001. (The real figure is likely far higher, because the government statistic counts only those women who go to government-run shelters for "runaway" domestics, which human rights experts view as no more than a PR ploy.) Women who show up at Saudi police stations seeking help are instead locked up and remain jailed until their "employers" reclaim them.
According to the dozen women with whom this author spoke, conditions in Saudi homes in the U.S. are no better than in the kingdom. One woman, "Jamila", discovered a cyst in her right breast—but her Saudi employers wouldn't let her see a doctor. It wasn't until the young Filipina escaped the Northern Virginia house more than two years later—when the cyst had grown to four inches—that she was able to seek medical attention. "Maryam," whose Saudi employers took her to a college town in Illinois, was passed around like mere property to friends and relatives of the employers. Denied a bed, she was forced to sleep on the hard floor in a cramped basement room.
Domestics who work in the United States don't have access to an underground railroad like the type that exists in Saudi Arabia—women there often hide in the trunks of cars as they are driven to a safe house or a port city—but thankfully many come into contact with Good Samaritans like Cielo, a Filipina woman who helped five different women escape from a single Saudi diplomat's home during a four-year period. Each time, Cielo—who worked as a maid down the street—persuaded the women that it was both acceptable and possible to flee. After prepping them, Cielo would pull around the cul de sac in her van, stopping in front of the Saudis' house. The women then darted out to the van—and freedom.
Women abused in Saudi homes on American soil need heroes like Cielo, because they receive no assistance from the State Department—even though officials there know what happens behind closed Saudi doors. Diplomatic Security (DS), State's law-enforcement arm, has received "many" calls from police stations over the years about Saudi diplomats abusing domestic workers, says a DS officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. But State has yet to provide oversight or inform domestic workers of their rights. Notes Keith Roderick, president of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, who personally helped a woman escape a Saudi home: "When you meet these women and hear their horror stories, it breaks your heart. But after you think about it, it gets you angry, really angry—because State should be doing something about this, but then they turn a cold shoulder to women who want nothing more than to live free."
Maybe you're thinking, that's three-year old news, the Saudis have seen the light. It's not and they haven't. On June 11 2005, a Saudi couple was arrested, accused of turning a young Indonesian woman into a virtual slave, forcing her to clean, cook and care for their children while she was threatened and repeatedly raped. Homaidan Al-Turki, 36, and his wife, Sarah Khonaizan, 35, were federally charged with involuntary servitude. Al-Turki also faces state charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment and extortion, as well as 12 charges of sexual assault. Al Turki, who operated a Muslim bookstore, was also being investigated for ties to terrorism: Federal Court documents indicate that the Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force suspected that al Turki " is closely aligned to terrorists and may be providing material support to terrorism..." Yet, according to a CBS news report about the trial, the Saudi Arabian Embassy paid the $400,000 bail for Al Turki and the $25,000 for his wife. After Saudi-paid lawyers' maneuvering, he Al-Turkis' trial began on June 15, 2006 with vivid testimony by the enslaved servant. In her opening statement, prosecutor Ann Tomsic told jurors the housekeeper tried but failed to fight off the repeated rapes and did not know where to turn for help. Tomsic said the woman was required to wear traditional Muslim clothing covering her entire body, including her face and hands (see the above photograph), while doing extremely rigorous work and never once being paid.
Is this the human rights performance of a "dear ally and friend?" Does this behavior merit visits to the Crawford ranch? Or, as we have recently documented concerning Saudi terrorism, does the Administration have one huge Saudi blind spot here?