Philip Alston, an Australian legal expert who reports to the UN Human Rights Council, said after a 12-day visit to Saudi Arabia that the government in Riyadh was urgently required to cast aside rules and regulations that have hampered social life in the kingdom.
“So, I feel very strongly that the kingdom should move to enable women to drive cars,” Alston said on Thursday.
The expert also called on Riyadh to make efforts to change the country’s guardianship system, which effectively hinders women’s ability to work and travel. Alston said some features of the system, requiring that women obtain the consent of a male member of their family to study, travel and other activities, “need to be reformed.”
“My concern is that the government is in fact deferring to a relatively small portion of conservative voices,” Alston told a news conference, adding, “The role of the government is to work out how it can change the policy and how it can change attitudes.”
The UN expert also lamented that people in some parts of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, are living in extreme poverty without the kingdom having any concrete plan to help them.
Alston said most of the people living in the southern Jizan region were in “extraordinarily poor conditions,” adding that the situation in the country’s east, where a Shia minority group lives, was quite the same.
“There needs to be a plan to more systematically address their situation,” said the UN expert, regretting the fact that Riyadh had failed to admit that poverty existed in the country and officials were still in the habit of hiding information on the issue.