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Saudi Arabia

Human Rights

Saudi Arabia has been cited by several international human rights monitoring groups for its alleged failure to respect a number of basic rights. London-based Amnesty International reported receiving credible testimony from political prisoners who alleged they were arbitrarily arrested, held in prolonged detention without trial, and routinely tortured during interrogations. Torture methods in the Mubahathat (office of secret police) prisons included months in solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings to the soles of the feet, suspension by the wrists from ceilings or high windows, and the application of electric shocks to all parts of the body. Amnesty International cited reports that sixty-six persons had been detained without charge or trial for radical Shia activity, although forty-one of these, as well as other political opponents of the government, were released in 1990 on the occasion of a royal pardon for more than 7,000 common criminals.

The human rights organization Middle East Watch, the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee, and the International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula issued reports in 1991 and 1992 that detailed extensive use of torture in Saudi prisons as a means to extract confessions from detainees. Prisoners reportedly signed confessions to crimes they had not committed in order to escape physical and psychological torture. As of October 1992, human rights organizations had identified forty-three political prisoners who had been detained for more than one year without formal charges. Several prisoners are alleged to have died while in police custody.

The Department of State reported in early 1991 that there was no automatic procedure for informing a detainee's family or employer of his arrest. Embassies usually heard of the arrest of their nationals informally within a few days; official notification took several months. A policy requiring Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval of consular access to prisoners had caused delays in consular visits.

In spite of calls after the Persian Gulf War for modernization of laws and relief from the influence of strict Islamism in the imposition of punishment, the royal family showed little disposition to liberalize the criminal justice system. As of early 1992, the conservative religious establishment seemed to have solidified its ability to block reforms of the codes of law and judicial procedures that were the sources of increasing domestic and international criticism.

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Among various works analyzing Saudi Arabia's defense posture, The Gulf and the West: Strategic Relations and Military Realities by Anthony H. Cordesman covers a range of topics including the development of the armed forces, the modernization of the air force, the various United States arms packages, and the naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf. Additional details on Saudi defense allocations and the arms buildup through the early 1980s are presented in Nadav Safran's Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security. The Middle East, published by the Congressional Quarterly in 1991, includes a concise discussion of military sales from the United States political perspective and a summary of events in the Persian Gulf crisis.

Limited treatment of the role played by Saudi Arabia in the gulf war can be found in works on Operation Desert Storm by Norman Friedman, Desert Victory, and James Blackwell, Thunder in the Desert, and in an article by David A. Fulghum in Aviation Week and Space Technology.

The aggression of Iraq against Kuwait and the decline of the Soviet threat in the Middle East have reduced the relevance of most earlier analyses of the strategic situation in the region. Several studies are still pertinent to Saudi Arabia, however. In Arms and Oil: U.S. Military Strategy and the Persian Gulf, Thomas L. McNaugher considers how Saudi Arabia deals with both external and domestic security threats as part of a broader review of United States military interests in the region. Saudi Arabia and the United States, a report prepared in 1981 by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, is still a useful appraisal of Saudi external and domestic security concerns and the strategic interests shared by the two countries. In Saudi Arabia: The West and the Security of the Gulf, Mazher A. Hameed examines the geopolitical environment in the gulf and the range of threats to the United States and the West.

A readable account of earlier Saudi military history can be found in The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Saud by Robert Lacey. Several aspects concerning the armed forces, military production, and the administration of justice are treated in Saudi Arabia Unveiled by Douglas F. Graham. The operation of the judicial system and the Saudi record on human rights are briefly examined in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices of the Department of State and annual reports by Amnesty International.

Much of the data in the foregoing chapter concerning the size, organization, and equipment of the Saudi armed forces is based on The Military Balance, published annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and on Jane's Fighting Ships. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1992

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