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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 21:46 GMT
Amnesty demands Saudi probe

The London-based pressure group, Amnesty International, has called on the United Nations to break what it describes as a "wall of silence" surrounding alleged human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

It issued the statement as the UN Commission on Human Rights prepared to begin its annual meeting in Geneva on Monday.

"The commission, the UN's main human rights watchdog, simply cannot turn its back on Saudi Arabia," said Amnesty spokeswoman, Stephanie Farrior.

It was time the international body put aside political and economic considerations, and publicly scrutinised what she described as Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, she added.

Torture claims

Amnesty and the US-based Human Rights Watch are also urging the 53-member commission to condemn what they say are grave violations, including executions, in China and Chechnya.

Amnesty claims
Scores of suspected political or religious opponents of the government arrested during 1999
In June 1999, up to 30 Christians arrested after reported discovery of a copy of the Bible
Cruel judicial punishments - such as amputation - continue to be imposed
Speaking to journalists on Friday, Ms Farrior said Saudi Arabia had one of the highest rates of executions in the world, inadequate trial procedures and feeble evidence requirements.

She said it also employed a range of torture techniques to obtain confessions, including beating of the soles of the feet, use of electric shock devices and the extraction of nails.

Executions

Amnesty says Saudi Arabia - like China - is one of a number of human rights violators treated as untouchable by the commission.

It is calling on it to adopt a resolution condemning gross human rights violations in the kingdom.

Executions in Saudi Arabia are normally carried out by sword, and Amnesty has previously said it knows of cases in which prisoners were unaware until the last minute that they were to be put to death.

The kingdom, which enforces a strict version of Islamic Sharia law, executes those convicted of murder, rape, drug offences and other major crimes.

More than half of those executed last year were foreign nationals from developing countries, according to Amnesty.

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See also:

02 Oct 99 | Middle East
Last-minute reprieve for Saudi killer
23 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Amnesty audit criticises arms exports
03 Nov 99 | UK Politics
UK arms exports under scrutiny
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