Saudi rights record under fire at UN
GENEVA, Nov 5, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Saudi Arabia insisted at the UN Monday
that its investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would
be “fair”, amid a barrage of criticism from countries over the brutal murder.
The half-day public debate at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva comes
just over a month after the royal insider-turned-critic was murdered in the
Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkey confirmed last week that Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he
entered the consulate on October 2 as part of a planned hit, and his body was
then dismembered and destroyed.
The so-called Universal Periodic Review — which all 193 UN countries must
undergo approximately every four years — came as a Turkish official charged
Monday that Saudi Arabia had sent experts to Turkey to cover up the
journalist’s murder before allowing Turkish police in to search the
The murder has placed huge strains on Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the
United States and other western countries and has tarnished the image of
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
During Monday’s review, Western countries especially voiced outrage at the
killing, with many calling for a “credible” and “transparent” investigation,
and some, like Iceland and Costa Rica, going further and demanding an
– ‘Gravely concerned’ –
British Ambassador Julien Braithwaite told the council his country was
“gravely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi
Arabia,” pointing to women’s rights, mass arrests of rights defenders and
extensive use of the death penalty.
“But most concerning is the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” he said, urging
Saudi Arabia to “ensure comprehensive and transparent investigations into the
murder” and to make sure “those responsible are held to account, and that
measures are put in place to prevent any possibility of recurrence.”
The US representative, Mark Cassayre, meanwhile said his country strongly
condemned “this premeditated killing.”
“A thorough, conclusive and transparent investigation carried out in
accordance with due process with results made public is essential,” he
The Saudi delegation meanwhile barely mentioned the case, choosing instead
to highlight the “progress made towards the protection and promotion of human
rights”, including reforms that among other things have allowed women to
drive in the ultra-conservative country.
But the delegation chief and head of the Saudi Human Rights Commission,
Bandar Al Aiban, did touch on the case briefly, stressing at the end of the
review that “our country is committed to carry out a fair investigation.”
“All persons involved in that crime will be prosecuted,” he said,
stressing that “the investigation is continuing in line with our domestic
Diplomats urged Saudi Arabia Monday to take concrete steps to promote
freedom of expression and protect human rights defenders and journalists.
– Death penalty –
The review also focused heavily on the use of the death penalty in the
country, especially for alleged crimes committed when the perpetrator was
under the age of 18.
The kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution, with
suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug
trafficking facing the death penalty.
Many countries urged Saudi Arabia to introduce a moratorium on the death
penalty or to abolish it altogether, and to explicitly ban its use for
Women’s rights were also high on the agenda. While many countries hailed
some progress in this area, including the fact that the country now permits
women to drive, they warned that much more reform was needed.
The country especially faced criticism over its male guardianship system
which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf
of their female relatives.
Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s brutal civil war also faced criticism, with
a number of countries urging it to halt the devastating bombing campaign
The Saudi delegation meanwhile highlighted that it has provided more than
$11 billion in aid to Yemen since it and its allies intervened in the war in
2015 to bolster Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after Iran-backed
Huthi rebels took over the capital Sanaa.
According to the UN, nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the
conflict, which has also created the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis and
left millions of people on the brink of famine.