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"The challenges of combating modern day slavery in Saudi Arabia: A critical analysis of Islamic law (Sharia), human dignity, and the commitment to international standards of human rights."

Slavery and human trafficking are old phenomena in human society. In 1926, the League of Nations in its Slavery Convention brought the question of slavery to the fore.  The Slavery Convention provides that whenever humans are forced or lured into exploitation, regardless of whether the movement of the victims is concerned, it is considered human trafficking. There is considerable overlap with the exploitation of mutual consent, and non-consensual exploitation. Consensual exploitation is mostly addressed through social and labour law while, non-consensual exploitation is mainly addressed through criminal law. Both forms of exploitation have adverse effects on equity and efficiency, which are therefore obstacles to development. However, Saudi penal legislation was not explicit in the criminalisation of contemporary slavery. Furthermore, in practice, Saudi legislation has ignored the criminalisation of modern slavery through explicit provisions, and only punished offenders using similar cases of traditional slavery.

Despite its relative prominence in relation to human dignity, it was not until the first half of the 20th century that concern about human dignity began to enter legal, and particularly constitutional and international discourse.  In its application to slavery, however, dignity has a longer history. For example, The Slavery Convention of 1926, suggests that slavery violates human dignity.   Furthermore, the French Constitutional Council, indicated in its preamble, the need for the protection of human beings against any form of slavery and degradation, which is considered a principle of constitutional value.   In Islamic law, the question of slavery is dealt with through the prism of human dignity as mentioned in the Qur'an and Sunnah. So too, in international human rights law, and (some) domestic constitutional law outside of predominantly Muslim countries, human dignity has often been seen as a central justification for the abolition of slavery.

However, do these different systems have the same, or similar, understandings of human dignity? This study is aimed at understanding the meaning and significance of human dignity in Islamic law’s treatment of slavery and in the relevant international human rights agreements addressing slavery, clarifying the position in Islamic law, in light of human dignity, of modern forms of slavery. Through this comparative study, the meaning of modern day slavery will be further understood, as well as the extent of compatibility of Saudi regulations with international conventions.




Dr Ciaran O'Kelly


Dr Ciara Hackett