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Saudi Arabia: Developmental Plans in Action

Saudi Arabia has recently been on a surge of controversial reforms. These reforms have been in planning since 2016, but they have recently started sparking attention. Whether it be women’s empowerment or religion-biased police officers, it seems that Mohammed bin Salman, who is the Prince and currently the prime minister of Saudi Arabia, is on a mission to lead the country to development.

In January and February of 2024, the United Nations organized the 45th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). UPR is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council which aims to review all member states’ human rights records regularly. Saudi Arabia’s review of the session concluded with the creation of a list of recommendations for the country to implement. The list, which included 354 recommendations by 135 different member states, focused on the violated human rights of the past years and confronted Saudi Arabia’s failure in implementing the previous recommendations of the UPR. While it was stated that Saudi Arabia couldn’t execute the old recommendations well, the council acknowledged that some progress was being made in the country. Recommendations by member states, such as Venezuela, read as “Continue its significant efforts to amicably resolve disputes and support humanitarian issues” (Venezuela #2), recognizing the country’s efforts in bettering human rights policies.

Since Mohammed bin Salman took over as prime minister and the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2022, he has been attempting to create reforms and develop the country to new extents. His policies are often viewed as controversial by the public. Vision 2030, a plan started by him back in 2016 when he was crown prince, aims to advance Saudi Arabia until the year 2030 and has many different objectives. It is composed of many different programs such as the Financial Sector Development Program or the Health Sector Transformation Program. With ambitious plans like these, Mohammed bin Salman is considered a reformist of Saudi Arabia. Out of the objectives planned for Vision 2030, so far, one of the most successful has been increasing the labor force for Saudi women. The rate of labor force participation by women has doubled from 17.4% to 36% between the years 2017 and 2023 and has exceeded the Vision 2030 goal of 30% by far.  Gender equality is an issue that has been addressed extensively on the UPR recommendations by many different member states including Türkiye, Germany, Russia, and many more. Nearly all the recommendations, however, relied on keywords like “continue” or “further”, unlike other recommendations on different topics. This goes on to prove that despite having a reputation for gender-related issues, women’s inclusion and living conditions are being actively improved and ameliorated in Saudi Arabia.

One topic that has been rather challenging to tackle, however, is the freedom of expression. A recommendation made by Ireland in the UPR report stated that Saudi Arabia should “adopt legislation to guarantee the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, including protection for journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society, in accordance with international human rights law and relevant international human rights standards”. This showcases the issues the country has had with freedom of expression rights, implying that there is currently no internationally approved legislation protecting freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia. It is also important to note that previous UPR suggestions have been made to Saudi Arabia, in favor of the passing of an internationally accredited freedom of speech legislation in 2018, but the country has failed to implement this recommendation.

To conclude, while it can be understood that Saudi Arabia still needs improvement to reach internationally desired standards in many aspects, it is obvious that there is a lot of improvement being made. From Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 being in action, to the UPR’s suggestions to improve, the country is in no shortage of developmental plans.

Works Cited

Callen, Tim, et al. “Four Indicators to Track Saudi Reform Progress.” Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, 5 Feb. 2024

“Salman of Saudi Arabia.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 15 Feb. 2024

“Saudi Arabia .” UPR Home

“Saudi Arabia: Authorities Must Abide by Recommendations from UN Human Rights Council Review  .” Amnesty International, 5 Feb. 2024

“Saudi Vision 2030.” -  2030

“Universal Periodic Review .” United Nations Human Rights Council


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