Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina, is not a nation that is particularly known for respecting human rights. It has been frequently criticised for its treatment of women religious discrimination and lack of religious freedom. Little has been done to review the nation's harsh laws over the years, and recent events involving imprisonment and murder of activists have not done Saudi Arabia's reputation any favours.
On Thursday March 7, at least 36 countries signed an open letter criticising Saudi Arabia's human rights record at the United Nations Human Right Council.
The letter -- the first collective rebuke of the kingdom -- urged Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists jailed for "exercising their fundamental freedoms" and to "disclose all information available" about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Jamal Khashoogi | Photo Credit: The Economist
"I call upon Saudi Arabia to ensure that all members of the public including human rights defenders and journalists can freely and fully exercise their right to freedom of expression and association including online and without fear of reprisals," Iceland's ambassador Harald Aspelund said during the session in Geneva.
At least 11 women's rights activists have been arrested since May 2018, according to rights groups, and are believed to be facing counter-terror charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
"Investigations into the killing [of Jamal Khashoggi] must be independent and transparent," Aspelund added.
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered Khashoggi's killing. Riyadh has maintained that neither bin Salman nor his father, King Salman, knew of the operation to target the journalist.
Saudi Arabia remains one of the very few countries in the world not to accept the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in terms of diplomatic relations, that is a red flag. Even citing the country's "special Islamic character" does not justify the allegations of the incessant human rights abuses. For the first time, the kingdom has been openly rebuked by the United Nations, but how will it respond?
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