First Published: 2017-01-19

UN expert tells Saudi to end ban on women driving
Alston concerned Saudi government is deferring to ‘small portion of conservative voices’, obstructing economic, social progress.
Middle East Online

Alston says driving, guardianship linked to poverty

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's government should end the kingdom's ban on women driving and reform the male guardianship system, a United Nations independent expert said on Thursday.

Philip Alston spoke at the end of a 12-day visit during which he met cabinet ministers, people living in poverty, activists, Islamic experts and others.

"My concern is that the government is in fact deferring to a relatively small portion of conservative voices," Alston told a news conference.

This is obstructing the economic and social progress which the oil-rich kingdom aims to achieve under its Vision 2030 wide-ranging reform programme, said Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

"So I feel very strongly that the kingdom should move to enable women to drive cars," said Alston, an independent expert who reports to the UN's Human Rights Council.

He said features of the guardianship system which hinder women's ability to work and travel "need to be reformed."

Under that system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.

Officials have argued that society is not ready for women driving but Alston says the government must take an activist role.

"The role of the government is to work out how it can change the policy and how it can change attitudes," he said, calling for an educational campaign.

Alston, an Australian legal expert, said driving and guardianship are very much related to poverty. Women in low-paying retail jobs, for example, cannot afford to hire drivers.

- 'Ambivalent' on rights -

He said he visited Jazan, in the kingdom's southwest, because it is the poorest part of the country, although there are "major problems" in the east as well.

In Jazan he found conditions "that I think would shock Saudi citizens." Most of those people in "extraordinarily poor conditions" there are Yemenis who arrived 50 years ago and -- like other foreigners -- do not have Saudi citizenship.

"There needs to be a plan to more systematically address their situation," Alston said, but most people he met in Saudi Arabia did not acknowledge that poverty exists in the world's biggest oil exporter.

He added that, although the government was very cooperative with his visit, he was given no data on the number of people considered poor.

"That is either an act of concealing the information that is available, or it's a serious indictment of the system."

Alston also called on the government to "liberalise" its approach to social media, after he received reports of "instances in which it has cracked down on certain people" communicating over the internet.

"I think the kingdom has long had an ambivalent relationship to human rights," but Vision 2030 is a chance for rights to be "a key part" of the progress which Saudi Arabia has embraced in so many areas, he said.

As part of its economic reforms the kingdom is reducing fuel and electricity subsidies, supplemented by compensation for the needy.

But Alston said in a written statement that there is no "coherent or comprehensive plan to achieve social protection for all those in need."

 

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks

Iraq forces launch new push against IS desert holdouts

Iran cleric urges new intifada against 'occupying regime'

Heavy Israeli deployment ahead of Friday prayers

Saudi crown prince ‘bought’ $450 mn Da Vinci

Trump Jerusalem ploy sparks Palestinian protests

States pledge action, condemn Libya slavery

UN says Syrian males caught in ‘vicious cycle’ of sex abuse

Jerusalem move awkward for Arab allies of US

Niger repatriates nationals from Libya

Russia says mission to defeat IS in Syria ‘accomplished’

Jerusalem recognition brings little change and big risks

Qatar agrees to buy fighter jets from France amid Gulf crisis

Iraqi militia threatens US forces over Jerusalem provocation

Qatar wants to resolve Guft rift, but not at expense of dignity

World condemns Trump Jerusalem announcement

UAE ‘disappointed’ at inclusion in EU tax haven blacklist

Huthi rebels mount show of force in Sanaa

Syrian opposition pressured into accepting Assad

Yemen government forces retake Red Sea town