Saudi Arabia rebuked by United Nations over detention of women activists

Leroy Wright
March 10, 2019

The statement, delivered by Iceland at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, condemns the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, urges an end to Saudi Arabia's use of counterterrorism regulations to target dissidents and human rights activists, and calls for the release of Saudi women's rights activists detained beginning in May 2018.

After initially denying any role in his disappearance, Saudi Arabia eventually acknowledged Khashoggi was killed in its diplomatic facility, blaming his death on a rogue rendition operation that went awry.

Abizaid called for accountability for Khashoggi's murder, and support for human rights, but he repeatedly stressed the strategic importance of Washington-Riyadh ties.

Despite increasing tension between Washington and Riyadh, the United States has not had an ambassador to the kingdom since Trump became USA president in January 2017.

In Washington, retired American general John Abizaid, President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, defended the US-Saudi relationship as lawmakers accused the kingdom of multiple misdeeds and criticized its crown prince as going "full gangster".

Referring to the first-ever visit to Bangladesh by the 52-strong Saudi delegation, Majid Bin Abdullah Al Qosaibi, the Saudi minister for commerce and investment, said: "The magnitude of our delegation is just a testimony that we are serious to open a new chapter and to enhance our communication and dialogue and enhance business relations between the two countries".

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. "It is in our interests to make sure that the relationship is sound".

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Bangladesh Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Golam Moshi said at a media briefing on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia's investments in the United States and Europe have reached its peak.

In November, the president announced that he would be nominating Abizaid for the position after the killing of Khashoggi.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says that for years the Human Rights Council has shied away from public criticism of Saudi Arabia. They've declined to say publicly whether they think Prince Mohammed knew about or ordered the killing, a possibility US intelligence agencies consider likely.

Lawmakers have been sharply critical of Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful Saudi crown prince.

"He's gone full gangster", said Republican Sen.

The ministers, besides holding talks with their Bangladesh counterparts, met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the signing of the instruments took place at the Prime Minister's Office on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia is a key partner for Switzerlandexternal link in the Arab world and the Middle East region, with the 2017 trade volume between the two countries standing at CHF2.5 billion ($2.5 billion), according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the hearing "worthless", and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said the hearing was "a waste of time". "But we can not let these interests blind us to our values or to our long term interests in stability", Menendez said.

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