Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Have Cautiously Opened the Door to Liberalization. They Should Keep Pushing

Over the past two years, the Saudi government has curbed the power of the clerical police and eased some religious restrictions, most notably by extending to women the right to drive cars. Ensaf Haidar—whose husband Raif has been imprisoned and publicly lashed for propagating liberal ideas on his blog—hopes that such reforms will be followed by a more liberal attitude toward dissent:

Manal al-Sharif and Loujain al-Hathloul, two renowned activists, became the public face of a campaign [to legalize driving for women]. Sharif spent nine days in detention for posting a video of herself driving; Hathloul spent 73 days in prison after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates in 2014. . . .

[D]emanding greater social and political rights has often exacted a severe cost on Saudi activists and intellectuals. I know this from experience. My husband, Raif Badawi, a blogger and activist, was a harsh critic of Saudi Arabia’s clerical establishment. . . .

On June 17, 2012, Raif was detained on charges that included apostasy, cybercrime, and disobeying his father. . . . In May 2014, Raif was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes, and fined a million Saudi Arabian riyal for creating an online forum for public debate and “insulting” Islam. On January 9, 2015, Raif was struck with 50 lashes in a public square in Jeddah, but the lashing was stopped on medical advice. He remains in prison. Only a pardon from King Salman can get him released.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, [the force behind recent reforms], has the opportunity to rewrite Saudi history and bring freedom and openness to our country. He could start a process of national reconciliation by reconsidering the cases and imprisonment of prisoners of conscience like my husband. By securing their freedom, Prince Mohammed would give us hope and make our country a place exiles would prefer to return to and participate in building our collective future.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Arab democracy, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law