RIYADH: The EU welcomed reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia, and noted that “significant steps” have been made to advance women’s rights in the Kingdom.
The appreciation came in a press release by the EU External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic service, on Tuesday, following dialogue between Saudi Arabia and the EU in Brussels on Monday on a wide range of topics.
EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore led the EU delegation, while the Saudi delegation was led by the Saudi Human Rights Commission president, Awwad Saleh Al-Awwad. Representatives from EU member states also attended as observers.
Gilmore tweeted: “I co-chaired, with Al-Awwad, the first ever Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Saudi Arabia. A very big agenda. Engagement matters.”
A spokesman for the Saudi Human Rights Commission told Arab News: “Al-Awwad highlighted the most prominent reforms achieved in the Kingdom in human rights, pointing to the short period during which they were achieved, and stated that the most important factor that contributed to achieving these reforms is the presence of a political will represented in the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The EAS press release added: “The EU welcomed the reforms that are taking place in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the socio-economic domain, and significant steps have been taken to advance women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”
The EU encouraged Saudi authorities to work towards achieving women’s full enjoyment of all human rights.
The dialogue included planned judicial reforms and acknowledged the changes recently introduced in the kafala (sponsorship) system, including the reforms of labor laws that came into effect in March 2020. The EU’s ambassador in Riyadh, Patrick Simonnet, told Arab News: “We were very pleased to host the first EU-KSA Human Rights Dialogue. We had been preparing this dialogue, which is unique for our bilateral relations, for some time and we were satisfied to see that the meeting was successful.”
The envoy added: “This is the first human rights dialogue that the Kingdom (held) with an international partner and we are excited that it was held with the EU. We have discussed a series of issues related to human rights, including the recent reforms for women’s empowerment, labor rights as well as the upcoming reforms in the penal code. We also explained the work of the EU in the field of human rights and we hope that we will be able to coordinate actions with Saudi Arabia in international fora.
“This dialogue has built upon the excellent relations we have established locally with the human rights commission, especially under the leadership of Dr. Al-Awwad. We are looking forward to more fruitful and comprehensive cooperation with the Kingdom on human rights,” Simonnet said.
Saad bin Mohammed Al-Arifi, the head of the Saudi mission to the EU, welcomed the discussions, pointing to the efforts made by the two sides in this context, adding he hoped this dialogue would support solid relations between the Kingdom and the EU.
The rights commission outlined that the two sides also reviewed reforms achieved in freedom of expression and association, the rule of law, religious freedom, the right to work, and means of cooperation between the two sides within the framework of the UN.
The co-chairs agreed to convene the following Human Rights Dialogue in 2022 in Saudi Arabia.