EU reprimands Saudi Arabia over human rights at UNHRC

Geneva: As many as 36 countries, including all 28 members of the European Union (EU), signed a statement condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The countries on Thursday called on Riyadh to release 10 activists and cooperate with a UN-led investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate.

Iceland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Harald Aspelund read out the unprecedented joint statement which was also backed by Canada and Australia but not the US, reported Al Jazeera.

“We are particularly concerned about the use of the counter-terrorism law and other national security provisions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights and freedoms,” Aspelund said, reading the text.

It called on Saudi authorities “to disclose all information available” about its own investigation while cooperating with separate UN inquiries into the death of Khashoggi, who was killed on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“The circumstances of Mr Khashoggi’s death reaffirm the need to protect journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression around the world. Investigations into the killing must be independent and transparent. Those responsible must be held to account. We call on Saudi Arabia to take meaningful steps to ensure that all members of the public, including human rights defenders and journalists, can freely and fully exercise their rights to freedoms of expression, opinion and association, including online, without fear of reprisals,” read the statement.

This is the first rebuke of the Gulf nation at the UN forum since it was set up in 2006. The step came amid growing international concern about Saudi violations of basic freedoms such as freedom of expression.