GENEVA: Saudi Arabia insisted at the UN on Monday that its investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be “fair”, amid a barrage of criticism from countries over the brutal murder.
The half-day public debate at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva comes just over a month after the royal insider-turned-critic was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The so-called Universal Periodic Review — which all 193 UN countries must undergo approximately every four years — came as a Turkish official charged on Monday that Saudi Arabia had sent experts to Turkey to cover up the journalist’s murder before allowing Turkish police in to search the consulate.
During Monday’s review, Western countries especially voiced outrage at the killing, with many calling for a “credible” and “transparent” investigation, and some, like Iceland and Costa Rica, going further and demanding an international probe.
British Ambassador Julien Braithwaite told the council his country was “gravely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia”, pointing to women’s rights, mass arrests of rights defenders and extensive use of the death penalty.
The Saudi delegation meanwhile barely mentioned the case, choosing instead to highlight the “progress made towards the protection and promotion of human rights”, including reforms that among other things have allowed women to drive in the ultra-conservative country.
But the delegation chief and head of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, Bandar Al Aiban, did touch on the case briefly, stressing at the end of the review that “our country is committed to carry out a fair investigation”. “All persons involved in that crime will be prosecuted,” he said, stressing that “the investigation is continuing in line with our domestic laws”.
The review also focused heavily on the use of the death penalty in the country, especially for alleged crimes committed when the perpetrator was under the age of 18. The kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.
Many countries urged Saudi Arabia to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty or to abolish it altogether, and to explicitly ban its use for juvenile offenders.
Women’s rights were also high on the agenda. While many countries hailed some progress in this area, including the fact that the country now permits women to drive, they warned that much more reform was needed. The country especially faced criticism over its male guardianship system which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.
Experts sent to cover up Khashoggi murder
Saudi Arabia sent two experts to Istanbul with the specific aim of covering up evidence after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul, a Turkish official said on Monday.
“We believe that the two individuals came to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises,” a senior Turkish official said, asking not to be named.
The official confirmed a report in the Sabah newspaper saying that chemicals expert Ahmad Abdulaziz Al Janobi and toxicology expert Khaled Yahya Al Zahrani were among a team sent from Saudi Arabia purportedly to investigate the murder last month.
The report said they visited the consulate every day from their arrival on Oct 11 until Oct 17. Saudi Arabia only allowed Turkish police to finally search the consulate on Oct 15.
The sons of Khashoggi, Salah and Abdullah, told CNN they wanted Saudi Arabia to return the body so that he could be buried in Madina with the rest of his family.
Yemen clashes rage
Battles raged on Monday near a Yemeni port crucial for humanitarian aid, but Saudi Arabia and its allies said they were committed to de-escalating hostilities with rebels as calls for a ceasefire mount.
The United Nations has appealed for urgent peace talks and warned that an assault on the Red Sea port city of Hodeida would threaten millions of lives.
Rebels and government sources both reported intense fighting in the area on Monday, despite calls by the UN and the United States — which provides military support to the Saudi-led camp — for an end to the war.
A source in the Saudi-led coalition told AFP the clashes were not “offensive operations”, adding that the alliance was “committed to keeping the Hodeida port open”.
The coalition source said the government alliance was “committed to de-escalating hostilities in Yemen and strongly supportive of the UN envoy’s political process”.
“If the Houthis fail to show up for peace talks again, this might lead [us] to restart the offensive operation in Hodeida,” the source said.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018