SAUDI ARABIA
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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). There are no political parties or national elections. The king's powers are limited because he must observe the Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.

Saudi kings gradually have developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by and responsible to the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense is also the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major autonomous organizations.

Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a.

The kingdom is divided into 13 provinces governed by princes or close relatives of the royal family. All governors are appointed by the King.

In March 1992, King Fahd issued several decrees outlining the basic statutes of government and codifying for the first time procedures concerning the royal succession. The King's political reform program also provided for the establishment of a national Consultative Council, with appointed members having advisory powers to review and give advice on issues of public interest. It also outlined a framework for councils at the provincial or emirate level.

In September 1993, King Fahd issued additional reform decrees, appointing the members of the national Consultative Council and spelling out procedures for the new council's operations. He announced reforms regarding the Council of Ministers, including term limitations of 4 years and regulations to prohibit conflict of interest for ministers and other high-level officials. The members of 13 provincial councils and the councils' operating regulations also were announced in September 1993.

In July 1997, the membership of the Consultative Council was expanded from 60 to 90 members, and again in May 2001 from 90 to 120 members. Membership has changed significantly during expansions of the council as many members have not been reappointed. The role of the council is gradually expanding as it gains experience.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The Saudi Arabian legal system is based on Shari'a. Shari'a courts exercise jurisdiction over common criminal cases and civil suits regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Such jurisdiction extends to non-Muslims for crimes committed in the country. Shari'a courts base judgments largely on their interpretation of the Koran and the Sunna. Cases involving relatively small penalties are tried in Shari'a summary courts. More serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari'a courts of common pleas. Appeals from Shari'a courts are made to the courts of appeal. The Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community. There is no comparable right for non-Muslims or foreigners, whose cases are handled in regular Shari'a courts.

Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.

The military justice system has jurisdiction over uniformed personnel and civil servants that are charged with violations of military regulations. The Minister of Defense and Aviation and the King review the decisions of courts-martial.

The Supreme Judicial Council is not a court and may not reverse decisions made by a court of appeals. However, the Council may review lower court decisions and refer them back to the lower court for reconsideration.

The Council of Senior Religious Scholars is an autonomous body of 20 senior religious jurists, including the Minister of Justice. It establishes the legal principles to guide lower-court judges in deciding cases.

Judges are appointed by the Justice Ministry and confirmed by the Royal Diwan (Royal Court). The Ministry exercises judicial, financial, and administrative control of the courts. The Supreme Judicial Council, whose members appointed by the King, may discipline or remove judges.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights

The Saudi Arabian Government's human rights record remained poor in 2001. Citizens have neither the right nor the legal means to change their government. Security forces continued to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention. In addition there were allegations that security forces committed torture. On October 1, the Council of Ministers approved a new law regarding punitive measures that would forbid harming detainees and to allow those accused of crimes to hire a lawyer or legal agent. The law became effective in November; however, at year's end, there were no reports of its implementation. Prolonged detention without charge is a problem. Security forces committed such abuses, in contradiction to the law, but with the acquiescence of the Government. The Mutawwa'in continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials are closed, and defendants usually appear before judges without legal counsel. The Government infringes on citizens' privacy rights. The Government prohibits or restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. However, during the year, the Government continued to tolerate a wider range of debate and criticism in the press concerning domestic issues. Other continuing problems included discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and strict limitations on worker rights.

The Government views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights and disagrees with internationally accepted definitions of human rights. However, in 2000 and during the year, the Government initiated limited measures to participate in international human rights mechanisms, such as its approval of the October legislation, which the Government claimed would address some of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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