Frankly Speaking: Saudi Human Rights Commission chief outlines mandate, ambitions

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Updated 20 May 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Saudi Human Rights Commission chief outlines mandate, ambitions

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Human Rights Commission chief outlines mandate, ambitions
  • Hala Al-Tuwaijri cites “rapid advances, huge transformation” in women’s empowerment, particularly in the labor force
  • Describes “humbling responsibility” of handling human rights file, highlighting need for judicial reform

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is undergoing a “huge transformation” in relation to women’s empowerment thanks to comprehensive reforms to legal, civil, and social rights, Hala Al-Tuwaijri, the first woman to lead the the country’s Human Rights Commission, has said.

The Kingdom has seen rapid advances in the representation of women in positions of leadership, from Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, the first female Saudi ambassador to the US, to Sara Al-Suhaimi, the first female chair of Tadawul, the Saudi stock exchange.

Indeed, Al-Tuwaijri’s own appointment as president of the Human Rights Commission with the rank of minister back in September 2022 is proof in itself of the tectonic changes underway in Saudi Arabia.

“Those are examples of women who made it to the top. (But) that’s basically the tip of the iceberg,” Al-Tuwaijri told Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.”

“What has actually happened in Saudi Arabia is a huge transformation, especially when it comes to the issue of women’s empowerment.”




Hala Al-Tuwaijri, president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, said: “Yes, unfortunately, there is bias not only against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but generally against people from this region.” (AN photo)

In a freewheeling interview, Al-Tuwaijri discussed the progress she has witnessed since assuming office and addressed the criticisms of Western nations that scrutinize the authenticity of Saudi Arabia’s advancements in human rights.

Nowhere is the transformation in the rights of Saudi women more obvious than in the workplace. Thanks to a slew of reforms and new legal protections, women now make up a significant portion of the labor force at every level.

“The approach was comprehensive,” said Al-Tuwaijri. “We basically expanded all the legal, civil, social rights and looked at legislation, procedures and everything that was actually obstructing women’s progress was actually moved away.

“The biggest achievement, I think, is how women’s empowerment has changed the face of the country. Now you see women everywhere working in every field. The pipelines for women to join the labor force were all unclogged and therefore you see women joining the labor force.

“And this was translated in the data about women’s empowerment and especially women’s participation in the workforce.”

Perhaps the best examples of this transformation are the Saudi women making strides in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — career paths that have traditionally been dominated by men.




Saudi scientist Rayyanah Barnawi (R) became the first Saudi female astronaut to go to space. With her in the picture is fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni. (@Astro_Rayyanah/File))

“I would use the cliche ‘the sky’s the limit,’ but after (first Saudi female astronaut) Rayyanah Barnawi went to space, I think that metaphor does not describe the ambition of Saudi women,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“I think that Saudi women have proved to be efficient and to be up to the positions that they’ve taken.”

Since 2016, the Kingdom has implemented a raft of reforms designed to empower women, from the lifting of the ban on driving and the relaxation of the male guardianship law to measures to combat violence against women and girls.

Although it is a challenging role, Al-Tuwaijri says her appointment to lead the Human Rights Commission reflects how seriously the Kingdom takes its obligations and its commitment to the shared values of the international community.

“This task of handling the human rights file anywhere in the world is a huge responsibility, a humbling one,” she said. “And also, it comes with a package of knowing you’re doing good for the people and for mankind in general. It has its own lofty values and principles as well.

“In Saudi Arabia, it’s no different. I come to work every day knowing that, yes, I’m doing my job on the one hand. But also, I know that this job includes the promotion and protection, the rights of people living in Saudi Arabia and also contributing to the international community and the new trends and approaches to human rights.

“So, the task is not a simple one. It’s not a straightforward one. It’s not that you have a goal and you have to accomplish it at a certain period of time. No, it’s ongoing. It’s dynamic. And it’s always changing, requiring a lot of exposure, communication with others.”

In a September 2023 interview with US broadcaster Fox News, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman admitted to being “ashamed” of the Kingdom’s laws after a retired teacher was sentenced to death for a critical post on social media.

“Shamefully, it’s true. It’s something I don’t like,” the crown prince told Fox News, highlighting his government’s efforts to reform and modernize the judiciary.

“We are doing our best … we have already changed tens of laws in Saudi Arabia, and the list has more than 1,000 items. In the cabinet they have only 150 lawyers, so I’m trying to prioritize the change day by day.”

He added: “But we are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But (under) the jury system, you have to follow the laws and I cannot tell a judge (to) do that and ignore the law, because … that’s against the rule of law. But do we have bad laws? Yes. We are changing that, yes.”




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was interviewed by Fox News’ chief political correspondent Bret Baier on Sept. 21, 2023. (AN Files)

Asked about these comments, Al-Tuwaijri said the crown prince respects the authority of the Kingdom’s judiciary, but that reforms are necessary — measures that the Human Rights Commission is on board with.

“Yes, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince stated that. And I think it’s a verbal affirmation of the big initiatives that are taking place in terms of the transformation in the judicial system,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“Three laws have been issued recently, all of them controlling the lives of people in a positive way — where by controlling we mean there is more clarity in terms of the judiciary and predictability, of course.

“The fact that all of this is taking place while we are also progressing, putting forward initiatives, is more like fixing a plane while you’re flying. And this is precisely what His Royal Highness the Crown Prince indicated.

“But in the same interview you have mentioned, he also showed so much respect for the judiciary. And I think every country that respects itself and its status has to also respect the judiciary.”

The Human Rights Commission is participating in this reform process “so the human rights lens is always applied when it comes to issuing a new law or reviewing one or giving advice on a certain procedure,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

“We have to make sure also that everything that’s happening in this journey of legal transformation is actually aligned with the human rights commitment.”

Although its reform agenda is driven by a broader domestic transformation plan under Vision 2030, the Kingdom engages with international agencies and human rights groups to ascertain where improvements can be made — provided they are based on fact rather than hearsay.




Highlights of the speech of Saudi HRC chief Hala Altuwaijri during Global Labor Market Conference, with the topic “Women in the Labor Market”. (X: @HRCSaudi_EN)

“In our mandate, we engage with all kinds of parties, whether it’s state, government organizations or non-government organizations,” said Al-Tuwaijri. “But the basis of this kind of engagement is cooperation, dialogue and constructive efforts.

“We do engage with all of these entities as long as the objective is to have a constructive dialogue that actually is on equal footing and, at the same time, understands the differences between us. This is basically how we function.”

She added: “And of course, we do monitor what the media addresses in terms of human rights issues, that includes everything. So, it depends on our relationship with these entities. We engage directly in cooperation and dialogue.

“And if we find that the reports are not based on facts but just meritless, hearsay or so, then we just focus on working on the ground and trying to continue our strategy and reach our goals and consider that (report) as one of so many reports that are actually politicizing human rights and not really engaging in a cooperative manner.”

In January, the UN held the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, where Al-Tuwaijri emphasized Saudi Arabia’s determination to achieve the highest global standards in promoting and protecting human rights.




Illustration on Saudi Arabia's participation in the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in January 2024. (X: @HRCSaudi_EN)

Despite the significant strides Saudi Arabia has made, several Western commentators have characterized this commitment as a PR stunt. Al-Tuwaijri brushed aside the criticism, pointing to the Kingdom’s positive record.

The Universal Periodic Review “covers a period where there were, on the ground, more than 100 reforms, and those reforms (have been) published,” she said. “They are supported with evidence, with data, and that is an actual manifestation of the reforms.

“Yes, some people would always criticize and some people would be cynical about what happens. But we keep open in terms of cooperation with states, government organizations, non-government organizations about addressing these issues and discussing areas of improvement.

“And for people who doubt, (who say) that it’s a stunt or that we’re not telling the truth, I invite them to come and visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and meet actually with men and women from the Saudi community and listen to how much they have actually benefited from all of these improvements and changes and developments that happened on the ground.”

Asked whether the negative perception of Saudi Arabia among international rights organizations is influenced by political bias or unrealistic expectations, Al-Tuwaijri pointed to the positive feedback the Kingdom has also received.

 

 

“There were more than 135 comments given to the Saudi delegation in Geneva last January. And what was astonishing is that all 135 comments were introduced by acknowledgement of the improvement,” she said.

“It is obvious that compared to the previous report, there is great improvement that was acknowledged by the international community.”

She added: “Yes, unfortunately, there is bias not only against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but generally against people from this region. But we try to overlook the negative implications of that bias and try to see the good in these approaches or reports or criticism and see what we can take from them.”

Al-Tuwaijri acknowledged that changing such attitudes would be a gradual process, but one possible to implement through continuous engagement with friends and critics alike.

“The purpose is to make people see for themselves what is happening in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “Because the narrative is never complete, actually, without people witnessing it with their own eyes.”
 

 


Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations
Updated 21 June 2024
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Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s drug control authority seized large quantities of narcotics and arrested several people following a number of operations across the Kingdom, reported Saudi Press Agency.

Border guards in Asir province thwarted an attempt to smuggle 52 kg of hashish into the kingdom, while in Jazan the authorities foiled the trafficking of 243 kg of qat.

Saudi’s security authorities are urging people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of the Kingdom.

Alternatively, information can be emailed to [email protected]. All reports are treated in confidence.


Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees

Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees
Updated 21 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees

Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees
  • Support ‘includes all countries of the world without discrimination,’ says KSrelief
  • Kingdom has spent $115 billion on aid in 90 countries over past 4 decades

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen its support for refugees and displaced persons around the world on World Refugee Day, reported Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi aid agency KSrelief said its humanitarian support “includes all countries of the world without discrimination.”

Since it was founded in May 2025, the organization has so far carried out 2,984 projects in 99 countries as it continues to expand its work for the needy and people affected by wars and disasters.

Support for refugees and displaced people in Syria, Palestine, Myanmar and Yemen alone was delivered through 424 humanitarian projects with a value of over $1.18 billion. The schemes have included food and agricultural security, protection and health services, shelter, early recovery and education.

Infographic courtesy of Salam.org

KSrelief also supported those displaced in other countries by implementing 304 projects worth more than $2.19 billion,

The Kingdom hosts a large number of people from countries affected by war, with refugees from Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar alone constituting 5.5 percent of its population. With the latest General Authority for Statistics census citing a total population of 32,175 million, that places the number of refugees at over 1.76 million.

The visitors are provided with “the opportunity for free treatment and education,” said the SPA report, and the Kingdom is keen they are integrated into society.

Saudi’s humanitarian aid and relief efforts go back decades. Non-profit organization Salam records total spending over the past four decades as more than $115 billion in over 90 countries.

“Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to different countries, solving humanitarian crises, and relieving people suffering after wars or natural disasters. These aids are granted without any bias or prejudice to religion or ethnicity,” says Salam on its website, salam4cc.org.


How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI
Updated 21 June 2024
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How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI
  • AI solutions designed to solve specific business problems are having a profound impact on how firms operate
  • Braincell leverages AI to enhance processes, from logistics and healthcare to banking and smart cities

RIYADH: Automated decision-making allows businesses to make faster, more accurate and more consistent decisions by analyzing large datasets without the risk of human error. That is why, as Saudi Arabia expands its digital economy, such tools are becoming more widely used in the Kingdom.

One firm that is leading the charge in this area is the Saudi startup Braincell, which helps businesses streamline processes and enhance decision-making through automation and artificial intelligence integration.

“Braincell has created a data governance platform and data workflow platform that enables AI solutions to be connected at ease, making it a one-stop shop for data needs,” Abdulhameed Khairaldeen, Braincell’s business development director, told Arab News.

AI solutions, which leverage AI techniques and technologies to solve specific business problems, are poised to have a profound impact on how firms operate. Already, large language models like ChatGPT are taking on rudimentary tasks in a range of industries.

“Braincell clients can choose to work on their own LLMs and on-premises models or even connect to the likes of OpenAI’s ChatGPT,” said Khairaldeen.

Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies. (Supplied)

With the Kingdom’s mission to become a global leader among data-driven economies, new AI startups are emerging every day with the goal of contributing to the fast-growing sector. Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies.

Since its establishment, Braincell has focused on empowering businesses through technology, data and interconnected systems with the mission of enhancing efficiency in business flow regardless of the sector.

In particular, Braincell is connecting leaders, executives, organizations and governments to systems that will allow faster and more effective decision-making.

Braincell leverages AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations. (Supplied)

Asked how Braincell helps firms improve their employee productivity, the company’s senior data consultant, Shatha bin Shaalan, said: “We use AI and automation in our platform to automate the repetitive tasks that we do every day, ensuring that our clients get the benefit of maximum efficiency while reducing human errors and manual efforts.”

Braincell is leveraging AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations across sectors including healthcare, data, banking, supply chains, manufacturing, and smart buildings and cities.

In healthcare, Braincell’s technology fosters an environment for improved patient outcomes by working with clients to build metric-driven healthcare systems, creating scalable digital health ecosystems that reduce errors through automation.

DID YOUKNOW?

• In healthcare, Braincell improves patient outcomes through metric-driven systems that reduce errors.

• In banking, it performs real-time monitoring, streamlines processes, detects fraud, and monitors risk.

• In smart buildings, it collects data on energy consumption, air quality, and occupancy to improve efficiency.

Some of its services include comprehensive insights into personalized care and streamlined clinical processes.

In banking, Braincell is utilizing AI to enhance the customer experience by streamlining and organizing processes that in turn will reduce manual errors.

Shutterstock illustration image

Through Braincell’s banking command center, real-time monitoring also detects fraud, monitors risk management and enhances strategic decision-making.

Applied to smart buildings and cities, Braincell offers new ways to improve the experience of residents. One example is the firm’s data integration and sensor deployment that collects data on energy consumption, air quality, occupancy levels and other relevant parameters.

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This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Braincell’s use of automation in smart buildings and cities also improves energy efficiency by using advanced AI algorithms to control smart lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that adjust settings based on occupancy and environmental conditions.

The company has more than 100 active users, and boasts the ability to process 120 billion records in a matter of seconds using AI.

It aims to help businesses make reliable decisions by connecting data sources and consolidating them in a comprehensive way that is easier for clients to access, resulting in higher quality, accuracy and consistency through the use of AI automation.

“The data platform is highly customizable with a very simple setup,” said Bin Shaalan, the firm’s senior data consultant. “It’s dynamic and fits all needs as it integrates with many systems adopted here in the Kingdom.”

Braincell has signed memorandums of understanding with multiple partners including the Ministry of Health, the Public Investment Fund, the National Unified Procurement Company and supply chain specialist XPL Solutions.

The firm has also created a data governance and data workflow platform to help companies comply with National Data Management Office regulations in the Kingdom.
 

 


No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says
Updated 21 June 2024
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No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says
  • Prince Khalid bin Bandar was speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference
  • Said Kingdom’s position on Arab-Israeli conflict has never changed

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that normalization remained important to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region because it would ensure peace, stability and security.
He admitted that “compromises would have to be made” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he said affected the world in a way other conflicts did not.

“If what is happening (in Gaza) keeps happening, we are going to go down a path that is irreversible,” Prince Khalid said. 



“The further we get away from finding a solution, the more people lose hope, the more we’re at that point, it’s going to spread to a regional conflict. It’s important for everyone to recognisze the danger of what lies ahead. The conflict will not remain regional, it will become international very quickly,” he said.

But Prince Khalid said that normalization would be “irrelevant” until the plight of Palestinians was resolved.

“We believe in the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the conflict,” he said. “If it was easy, we’d have done it by now but without that, normalization is irrelevant. There is no point having normalization because we would still have conflict and conflict is the problem, not normalization.

“There is no point in discussing everything else until we find a solution. Once we do that, everything is on the table.”

Prince Khalid said that the Kingdom was “one of the most important countries in the region,” which had “leverage” in opening up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel and for it not to play a role in brokering a solution would be “silly.” 



But he added for that to happen, Israel “needs to play ball as well,” adding that the price for finding a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

The ambassador bemoaned how little global coverage the Saudi position on the crisis received, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent Hajj address, in which he reiterated calls for an immediate halt to attacks in Gaza.

“It’s important to recognize our position, which has never changed, despite people never listening to us,” Prince Khalid said.

“The crown prince’s positon, Saudi Arabia’s position, his majesty (King Salman)’s position, the government’s position and the will of almost every Saudi I know is we need a Palestinian state.



“The offer was made in the Arab Peace Initiative; on 1967 borders, a Palestinian state, a two-state solution and everyone lives happily ever after. It goes back to 1982, King Fahd presented the same offer, it has not been taken up, I find it mystifying.

“The crown prince stated very clearly, we need a ceasefire, an irreversible solution for the Palestinians and then there’s peace everywhere, it wasn’t even reported.

“It’s annoying and frustrating for us because the world assumes something totally different and that’s not helping the situation,” he said.


Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum
Updated 20 June 2024
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Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum
  • Event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies
  • Forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies

RIYADH: The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is set to host the Advanced Therapies Forum which will take place from June 23-24, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies. It will aim to foster a collaborative environment where industrial partners can showcase their research and forge strategic alliances with healthcare institutions.

The forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies. It also strives to increase the number of clinical research studies in the fields of T-cell therapy and gene therapy.

Industrial partners, including pharmaceutical companies of all sizes, will have the opportunity to explore avenues for launching clinical research initiatives at KFSH&RC.

The forum will feature 15 keynote speeches, over 30 presentations on ongoing projects by industry leaders, five panel discussions, and numerous other sessions. The goal is to cultivate a shared vision for the future of advanced therapies in the Kingdom and to localize manufacturing technology for cellular and gene therapies.

In recent years, KFSH&RC has emerged as a beacon of hope for patients who faced limited treatment options, using genetically modified immune cells to successfully treat more than 120 individuals.

The journey began with a positive outcome for the first child from the region to be treated using T-cells. More recently, the hospital successfully applied advanced gene therapy to eight patients with hereditary hemophilia. The single-dose therapy effectively elevated levels of the missing clotting factor, empowering patients to reclaim their lives.

KFSH&RC has been ranked 20th among the top 250 academic healthcare institutions worldwide, according to SPA, and has held the top spot in the Middle East and Africa region for two consecutive years.

Currently, more than 30 gene and genetically modified cell therapies have been officially approved for clinical use. Experts predict that the global cell and gene therapy market is poised for exponential growth, outpacing the traditional pharmaceutical industry to surpass a staggering $50 billion annually by 2027.

It is estimated that more than 2 million patients will benefit from T-cell therapy within the next decade, with more than a thousand clinical research studies actively underway across the globe.