UN expert to assess violence against Saudi women

GENEVA, Jan 28 – A United Nations human rights expert will travel to Saudi Arabia to assess the status of women there, following a U.N. panel’s tough questioning of Riyadh’s adherence to an international convention barring discrimination.

Yakin Erturk, the Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on violence against women, has been invited by Saudi Arabia for a Feb. 4-13 visit, the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights said in a statement on Monday.

The Turkish sociology professor will meet government officials, rights advocates and women who have been victims of violence during her trip to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam “to gather first-hand information on the question of violence against women in the country,” the statement said.

A Saudi court provoked an international outcry in November when it condemned a gang rape victim to 200 lashes. The woman was pardoned by King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia ratified a 1979 international bill of rights for women in 2000, with the proviso that Islamic law would prevail if there were any contradictions with its provisions.

In its first appearance before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women earlier this month, the conservative kingdom came under repeated fire for its system of male guardianship which requires women to seek permission to travel, work, or see a doctor.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are forbidden form driving. Saudi women can face harassment from the religious police if they are not accompanied in public areas by a male relative who acts as her “guardian”.

The U.N. committee is due to issue its conclusions on Saudi Arabia’s compliance with the international pact on Friday. Erturk, who serves as an independent envoy, will also report to the Human Rights Council following her trip to the kingdom. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)


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