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Saudi economic agenda tied to human rights

Riyadh still behind the curve when it comes to opening its economy to women, U.N. finds.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
An economic reform agenda from Saudi Arabia could bring gains in human rights, though some parts of the demographic are still behind the curve, the United Nations said. Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI
An economic reform agenda from Saudi Arabia could bring gains in human rights, though some parts of the demographic are still behind the curve, the United Nations said. Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- An economic agenda in Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, which aims to boost non-oil revenue could lead to a better human rights record, the United Nations said.

According to assessments from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, most people in Saudi Arabia are "convinced" poverty has been eradicated in the country. Nevertheless, the U.N. agency said poverty is rampant in many rural areas and the country only recognized the existence of income inequalities in 2002.

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Vision 2030 aims to boost Saudi Arabia's non-oil revenue and relies in part on raising money through the public listing of shares in the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known also as Saudi Aramco.

Philip Alston, a special U.N. envoy for Saudi Arabia, warned the timetable for some of the reforms under the plan were overly ambitious and at serious risk.

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"In meetings with me the government was severely self-critical of the shortcomings of its current social protection system and it appears to be making genuine attempts at reforming that system," he said.

Riyadh said total revenues for 2017 are expected at $184 billion, a 31 percent increase from initial projections this year. Oil revenues are estimated at $128 billion, 46 percent higher than 2016 projections. Non-oil revenues are estimated at $56 billion, about 6.5 percent higher than 2016 projections.

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Last year, Riyadh said it was cutting fuel and other subsidies and offering cash assistance elsewhere through a household allowance. While recognizing the need for social reforms under the program, Alston said Saudi Arabia still was behind its peer economies when it came to women's rights.

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Under Vision 2030, women are described as an underutilized asset to the economy, though they've only been part of some segments of the economy for less than five years.

"The 2012 decision allowing women to work in the retail sector transformed the lives of millions of women who were finally able to work," Alston said. "So too should the current economic transformation lift existing restrictions on women's economic and other independence."

The Saudi economy expanded 1.4 percent year-on-year during second quarter 2016, with the oil sector expanding 1.6 percent and non-oil expanding 0.4 percent.

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