Religious minorities in Saudi Arabia (non-Wahhabi Muslims and non-Muslims) face severe discrimination in employment and education, and are forbidden from openly practicing their religion. In cases involving the calculation of accidental injury or death compensation, a non-Muslim receives only half of the compensation that a male Muslim would receive, and in some cases only one-sixteenth of that amount, depending on intentionality. The testimony of non-Wahhabi Muslims can be disregarded, and non-Muslims are likely to receive harsher criminal sentences than Muslims. All verdicts are decided by the whim of partial Wahhabi judges.
The 2004 statistical report from the Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning acknowledged that non-Saudis account for 67% of the Kingdom’s labor force. Other estimates set this figure as high as 85 to 90%. This translates to nearly seven million foreigners, or one-third of the population of Saudi Arabia, who live and work in the country without any rights or recognition under the strict Saudi-Wahhabi religious laws and practices. Without these workers, many of whom are non-Muslims, the Saudi economy would collapse. This hiring practice permeates the government and private employment sectors. Saudis are bypassed in favor of cheap labor, mostly from poorer Asian or African countries, who accept any terms without complaint due to their constant fear of arrest or deportation.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s dependence on its labor and expertise, foreign workers in the country are treated very poorly. Upon entry into the country, the passports of non-diplomats are confiscated by their employers or sponsors and the foreigner becomes a virtual hostage of his or her sponsor until departing the country. Foreign workers often face abusive conditions in the workplace, being denied breaks and meals while working unreasonably long hours, and in some cases not receiving pay for months or years at a time.
There are numerous reports of serious verbal and physical abuse, especially of foreign women working as domestic servants in Saudi households. There is no minimum wage, and workers do not have the right to organize or strike. There is no agency that recognizes the grievances of foreign laborers, and they may not access the justice system. Embassies of foreign workers often side with the Saudis for fear of losing Saudi loans, favorable trade deals, and access to cheap oil.
CDHR strongly urges the international community to condemn these abuses and the institutional discrimination against anyone in Saudi Arabia because of belief, ethnicity, race, or gender. The Saudi regime, with its intolerant religious institutions and abusive and dysfunctional economic infrastructure, must be held accountable for its discriminatory policies. The recognition and protection of basic and universal human rights constitutes an indispensable part of the democratization process. A policy of fairness and decency must replace the current government-sanctioned practice of discrimination and abuse in Saudi Arabia.
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