By Daniel Hurley
A Saudi-UAE airstrike killed 51 people, including 40 children, on August 9 in the Yemeni city of Saada. Since the capture of the city by Houthi rebels in 2014, the U.S.-backed military alliance has conducted more than 16,000 airstrikes in the country—the poorest on the planet. With a cholera outbreak infecting local populations, an ongoing drought intensifying the likelihood of a national state of famine, and an estimated 69% of the country’s inhabitants being in need of humanitarian and protection assistance as of March 2017, Thursday’s attack is compounding what is considered to be the worst humanitarian crisis to occur in 50 years.
In response to the attack, UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for an independent investigation into the incident. Saudi Arabia denies that the intention of the airstrike was to target civilians, specifically children, and rather defends the collation’s operation as a “legitimate military operation”. In light of Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a consistent violator of international human rights—manifested by the arrest of two Saudi women rights activists earlier this month—a renewed spotlight has been shun on the regional power’s track record of human rights violations.
Since his instatement as both crown prince and Minister of Defense in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has sought to modernize Saudi Arabia, with the lifting of a long-standing ban preventing women from driving being an early indicator of change within the kingdom. Despite this sign of modernization, however, the Saudi government has continued to violate international human rights. Beginning days after MBS took power, hundreds of clerics and political opponents were arrested in what was considered to be a crackdown on dissent. Among those arrested was Nadhir al-Majid, a civil society activist who voiced his opposition to the government’s discrimination against the minority Shia community in 2011.
Saudi Arabia’s treatment of migrant workers has also been condemned. Filling mostly manual, clerical, and service jobs, the over 9 million migrant workers that are employed in the country are faced with discriminating and abusive employment practices. One such practice is a requirement that prohibits migrant workers from leaving the country unless they obtain permission from their employer. Considering that some employers confiscate passports and force migrants to work against their will, this requirement prevents many workers from leaving abusive workplaces.
The vagueness of the country’s judicial apparatus continues to be probed as well. Based on Sharia law as opposed to a formal penal code, the government has passed laws and regulations that impose criminal penalties for broadly-defined offenses. Without narrowly-worded regulations and an official penal code, judges have convicted individuals of crimes for violating laws that are subjective in nature. As a result, punishments that are condemned by most civilized nations, including floggings, whippings, and beheadings, have been levied upon individuals convicted of “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom.”
Canada’s exertion of diplomatic pressure upon the Saudi government over the arrests of women’s rights activists, in addition to the latter’s controversial airstrike in Yemen, are two recent events that have furthered the international community’s efforts to shine a light on the Saudi government’s treatment of persons within their country and abroad.
Daniel Hurley is a senior at The College of New Jersey where he studies Political Science.