Half of EU countries refused to condemn Saudi rights abuses in UN vote

Half of EU countries refused to condemn Saudi rights abuses in UN vote
Nearly half of EU members refused to condemn rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
24 September, 2019
Saudi Arabia made excuses to leave the Human Rights Council meeting on Monday [Getty]
Only 15 of the European Union's 28 member states signed a UN statement condemning human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

The joint statement, read out at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva, criticised the Gulf kingdom over reports of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and unfair trials, a follow-up to a statement made in March condemning Riyadh's treatment of women activists and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Among the 24 countries leading the censure of Saudi Arabia were the UK, Germany, Canada, New Zealand and Peru.

Notably, however, was the silence of 13 EU countries, including France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Poland and Greece, to sign the statement, which a leading human rights group described as "highly disappointing".

The Saudi delegation, who have a seat at the 47-member council, were absent at the meeting and gave no response. The Saudi ambassador left the room an hour before to host a reception for the country's national day.  

Lina al-Hathoul, sister of imprisoned Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, was among those who addressed the meeting. 

Loujain was arrested in May 2018 after campaigning against the ban on women driving, shortly before it was lifted.

She has alleged she has been tortured and sexually harassed in prison, and reportedly refused to sign a deal to secure her release if she denied torture. 

"Loujain was imprisoned for promoting the implementation of the Vienna declaration of human rights which affirms the full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights," Lina al-Hathloul told the room.

"Loujain did not get to drive in her home town of Riyadh because she was arrested right before the Saudi government lifted the driving ban for women," she added.

The fact that not all EU member states signed the bill was "highly disappointing" but "not surprising", given its stronger content and wording than the March statement which all EU countries signed, the Director of MENA Rights Group Ines Osman told The New Arab.

Monday's statement went "one step further" to that issued in March, becoming more overtly political in its demand for Saudi Arabia to end the death penalty.

"States have been having cold feet when it comes to condemning Saudi Arabia to the level that it should, but at the end of the day this remains a highly political decision," Osman said, adding it was "high time" such a statement was made given the deteriorating human rights situation in the country over the past two years.

The uptick in persecution of rights defenders has widely been attributed to Mohammed bin Salman, who became crown prince and de-facto leader in 2017.

A report by the UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, identified bin Salman and the Saudi regime as being directly reponsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

Countries have two more weeks to sign the statement, which left Osman "hopeful" that all EU members would give their support.

"Stronger wording means more disagreement," Osman said, lamenting that the discord between countries only allows Saudi Arabia to evade the condemnation necessary for change.