Human rights

West slams Saudi Arabia’s human rights record at UN meeting

  • US and Britain condemned ‘premeditated killing’ of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded ‘transparent investigation’ into murder
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 6:21am

Saudi Arabia insisted at the UN on Monday that its investigation into the killing of 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 slightly more than a month after the journalist was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey confirmed last week that Khashoggi had been strangled as soon as he entered the consulate on October 2 as part of a planned assassination, and that his body was then dismembered and possibly dissolved in acid.

The so-called Universal Periodic Review – which all 193 UN countries must undergo about every four years – came after a Turkish official charged on Monday that Saudi Arabia had sent experts to Turkey to cover up the journalist’s murder before allowing Turkish police in to search the consulate.

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.

A thorough, conclusive and transparent investigation ... is essential
Mark Cassayre, US representative

During the 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 international inquiry.

British Ambassador Julian Braithwaite told the council that his country was “gravely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia”, pointing to the issues of women’s rights, mass arrests of rights defenders and the nation’s 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”.

US representative Mark Cassayre said that 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 insisted.

The Saudi delegation meanwhile barely mentioned the case, choosing instead to highlight what delegation chief Bandar al-Aiban called “progress made towards the protection and promotion of human rights”, including allowing women to drive in the ultra-conservative country.

But Aiban, who is also the head of Saudi Human Rights Commission, did touch on the case briefly, insisting at the end of the review that his 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 laws.”

The diplomats in Geneva urged Saudi Arabia to take concrete steps to promote freedom of expression and protect human rights defenders and journalists.

The review also focused heavily on the use of the death penalty in the country, especially for crimes committed when the perpetrator was under the age of 18.

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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 juvenile offenders.

Women’s rights were also high on the agenda. 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 stop its devastating bombing campaign there.

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The Saudi delegation said it has provided more than US$11 billion in aid to Yemen since it and its allies intervened in the war in 2015.

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.