[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday encouraged the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website, in Arabic; GlobalSecurity backgrounder] states to address continuing rights issues [press release], including women's rights, treatment of migrant workers, statelessness, and freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. In a speech at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the first stop on a 10-day tour [press release] of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, Pillay also noted "encouraging" progress in economic and social rights, children's rights, and human trafficking. Pillay was pleased with the cooperation of GCC states thus far with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) [materials] process, reviewing the human rights records of all UN Member States every four years. Pillay additionally applauded the establishment of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) [official website] in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and recently in Bahrain and Oman, noting their "growing effectiveness" in promoting human rights.
According to a Freedom House [advocacy website] report [JURIST report] released last month, women's rights and opportunities have increased the most in Persian Gulf countries, which were ranked as the worst violators of women's rights five years ago. Despite the progress, the report found that women still face many obstacles in achieving recourse for domestic violence and equality in employment, education, and politics. The annual rights report [JURIST report] released by the US State Department (DOS) [official website] last month, criticized Saudi Arabia for violence against women. In February, Saudi Arabia proposed a new law [JURIST report] that would allow female lawyers to practice in some areas. In October, Kuwait's Constitutional Court ruled that female lawmakers are not required [JURIST report] to wear the hijab [JURIST news archive], the traditional Islamic headscarf, and that women do not need permission [JURIST report] to get a passport. A 2008 Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report found that female domestic and migrant workers faced frequent abuse [JURIST report] throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.