Written question by Hannah Neumann, Ernest Urtasun, Terry Reintke, Alice Kuhnke, Monika Vana, Tineke Strik, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield und Reinhard Bütikofer:
Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi women’s rights defender known for her activism on women’s right to drive, was arrested in May 2018 by the Saudi authorities. During the first months of her detention, she was held without charge or trial and was allegedly subjected to torture. The European Parliament has adopted two resolutions on her specific case, one in May 2018 and one in February 2019. Her arbitrary arrest was confirmed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which said that 'the criminal charges for which she has been indicted and tried clearly concern her internationally renowned public campaign.'
1. What specific actions has the European External Action Service, and more concretely, the EU Delegation in Riyadh, taken to ensure that Loujain Al-Hathloul’s human rights are respected and her release is ensured and will the VP/HR issue a statement calling for her release?
2. Is the VP/HR planning to suggest that the Member States add an annex on women’s rights defenders to the EU guidelines on human rights defenders?
3. Will the VP/HR suggest that the Member States add a discussion on human rights, particularly the situation of women’s rights defenders, as a permanent item on the agenda of the annual summit between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council?
Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell on behalf of the European Commission
The prolonged detention of Mrs al-Hathloul is of great concern for the EU. The EU has repeatedly raised it with the Saudi Foreign Ministry and Human Rights Commission and in multilateral fora, including at the March 2020 session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The European External Action Service (EEAS) is in regular contact with the detainee’s family. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights has repeatedly raised her case with high-level Saudi interlocutors. The EU Delegation in Riyadh attended all trial sessions of Ms al-Hathloul so far, as well as those of other women human rights defenders. Following disquieting reports about the lack of contacts between the detainee and her family between June-August 2020, the EEAS inquired with Saudi authorities on her condition. It was informed that, in late August 2020, the detainee’s parents were able to visit her. The EEAS will continue to closely follow the case.
Since the adoption of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in 2004, the EU is aiming to maximise the effectiveness of the latter’s implementation on the ground. Recently, the EU enhanced its focus on women human rights defenders who are increasingly targeted worldwide. The recent EU guidance note on improved HRD protection is addressing threats specific for women HRDs. Civil society has been involved in its drafting.
While high-level political meetings between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were discontinued because of the Gulf rift, the promotion and protection of human rights remains at the core of EU's engagement with the GCC. The EEAS conducts regular informal Human Rights Dialogues with the majority of GCC members, and discusses human rights issues regularly as part of our political engagement with all of them.