Saudi Arabia condemned for first time at UN Human Rights Council

Saudi Arabia condemned for first time at UN Human Rights Council

By Luke Vargas   
Published
A wide view of the U.N. Human Rights Council Chamber in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
A wide view of the U.N. Human Rights Council Chamber in Geneva, Switzerland. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

36 countries condemned the kingdom for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and for restrictions on free speech and the rights of women.

UNITED NATIONS – Saudi Arabia earned its most vocal condemnation to date at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday, as 36 countries denounced the kingdom’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing restrictions on free speech and the rights of women.

“It’s long overdue.”

Lou Charbonneau is the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch and said Thursday’s joint statement was the first time ever that Saudi Arabia faced public criticism on the Geneva-based council.

“We’re glad that states are putting their views on the record.”

A number of U.S. allies joined the criticism of Saudi Arabia – including Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – but the U.S. was nowhere to be found. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Human Rights Council last year, a move that allowed another vocal country to take America’s place.

“Iceland replaced the United States after it left the Human Rights Council in a short-sighted show of solidarity for Israel. It was ironic that it was Iceland that actually led this effort.”

Whether Thursday’s statement does anything to change Saudi Arabia’s behavior remains to be seen.

A growing number of countries want Saudi Arabia to cooperate with an investigation into the Khashoggi murder being led by U.N. expert Agnes Callamard. Last month, Callamard faulted Saudi Arabia for blocking Turkish law enforcement from properly investigating Khashoggi’s death, and she blamed the kingdom for hiding behind diplomatic protections to “facilitate the commission of a crime.”

Bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate echoed those concerns on Capitol Hill this week, but they faced pushback from President Trump’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia, John Abizaid.

Abizaid defended Saudi Arabia as an “essential partner” and warned that, “any scaling back of that relationship diminishes our ability to secure vital American national security interests in the region, and cedes influence to our competitors around the world.”

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