Swiss join criticism of Saudi Arabia at UN rights council

A woman drives her car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 24, 2018, just minutes after the world's last remaining ban on women driving was lifted. According to a UN investigator, prominent women's rights activists were arrested in Saudi Arabia that year as it lifted the driving ban; they were rounded up as part of a broader crackdown on dissent that extended to clerics and intellectuals. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Switzerland has signed a statement with dozens of Western countries raising serious concerns about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Switzerland has changed its stance: last year it withheld its signature for similar international condemnations of the Gulf kingdom at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

This content was published on September 16, 2020 - 12:21

Denmark's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Morten Jespersen, on Tuesday read out a joint statement on behalf of 29 countries – including Switzerland, Australia, Britain and Canada – at the UN Human Rights Council expressing their deep concern about repeated human rights violations in the Gulf state: torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

They urged the kingdom to “release all political detainees” and voiced concern at the detention of “at least five women activists”. Prominent women's rights activists were arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2018 as it lifted a ban on women driving cars, a step that many of the detainees had long campaigned for. Several of the arrested women say they have suffered torture and sexual assault in detention, accusations which Saudi officials reject.

The statement in Geneva also returned to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“We reiterate our call for transparency and holding all those responsible accountable,” it said.

A Saudi court this month jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for the murder of the journalist in 2018 at its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The trial drew criticism from a UN investigator and from human rights campaigners who said the masterminds of the murder remained free.

The more active Swiss position on Saudi Arabia represents a change. Last year it withheld its signature for international condemnation of the Gulf kingdom at the Geneva-based council. Switzerland was widely denounced, particularly by NGOs, for refusing to join similar initiatives launched in March and September.

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