Saudi Arabia has committed “gross and systematic violations of human rights” abroad and at home, and used its position on the UN Human Rights Council to effectively obstruct justice for possible war crimes, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement today, making a resounding call for the UN General Assembly to suspend the country’s membership of the world’s top human rights body.
The groups are calling for Saudi Arabia to be stripped of its rights of membership in the Human Rights Council until it ends unlawful attacks by the military coalition it leads in Yemen and these are credibly and impartially investigated.
“The credibility of the UN Human Rights Council is at stake. Since joining the Council, Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record at home has continued to deteriorate and the coalition it leads has unlawfully killed and injured thousands of civilians in the conflict in Yemen. To allow it to remain an active member of the Council, where it has used this position to shield itself from accountability for possible war crimes, smacks of deep hypocrisy. It would bring the world’s top human rights body into disrepute,” said Richard Bennett, head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.
“The strong evidence of the commission of war crimes by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in Yemen should have been investigated by the Human Rights Council. Instead, Saudi Arabia cynically used its membership of the council to derail a resolution to establish an international investigation, by garnering support for their rival, toothless resolution backing a national Yemeni inquiry. Nine months on, that inquiry has failed to credibly investigate allegations of war crimes and other serious violations.”
“As a member of the Human Rights Council Saudi Arabia is required to uphold the highest standards of human rights. In reality, it has led a military coalition which has carried out unlawful and deadly airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools in Yemen. The coalition has also repeatedly used internationally banned weapons in civilian areas. At home it has carried out hundreds of executions, put children on death row after grossly unfair trials, and ruthlessly repressed opposition and human rights activists.”
Saudi Arabia’s harsh crackdown on all forms of dissent at home has continued unabated throughout its current membership of the council, including through the use of grossly unfair trials at a special counter-terror court and long prison terms for peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders. More than 350 people have been executed since Saudi Arabia was elected to the Council, with 2015 seeing more recorded executions than any other year since 1995.
“Saudi Arabia must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, and end its shameful reliance on the death penalty,” said Bennett.
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has evaded accountability by pressuring the UN to remove the military coalition it leads in Yemen from a list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in armed conflict. Saudi Arabia threatened to disengage from the UN, withdraw its financial support including humanitarian projects, and to take its close allies with it.
Key allies of Saudi Arabia, including the USA and UK, have failed to halt transfers of arms for use in Yemen despite mounting evidence of war crimes.
“What’s particularly shocking is the deafening silence of the international community which has time and again ceded to pressure from Saudi Arabia and put business, arms and trade deals before human rights despite the Kingdom’s record of committing gross and systematic violations with complete impunity,” said Bennett.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are calling on UN member states to vote to suspend Saudi Arabia from the Council. They are also calling for an independent, impartial international inquiry into violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, provides that “the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.” In 2011, Libya was the first and only country suspended.
The Human Rights Council is meeting from June 13 to July 1. Its next session will be from September 13 to 30.