The United Nations must suspend Saudi Arabia's membership from the Human Rights Council or risk further damaging the council's credibility, rights defenders said in a letter sent to the international body on Wednesday.
"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."
—Richard Bennett, Amnesty InternationalThe groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, point out that Saudi Arabia has used its membership to obfuscate its human rights abuses in its coalition's military engagement in Yemen.
"Saudi Arabia has amassed an appalling record of violations in Yemen while a Human Rights Council member, and has damaged the body's credibility by its bullying tactics to avoid accountability," said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch. "UN member countries should stand with Yemeni civilians and suspend Saudi Arabia immediately."
Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses in Yemen are so well-documented that the European Union, Dutch lawmakers, and rights groups throughout the world have called on the international community to issue an arms embargo against the country.
But an arms embargo has yet to happen. And in one recent air strike, American-made bombs decimated a densely populated market, killing over 100 people, including 25 children.
Yet when the UN recently added the Saudi-led coalition to a blacklist of armed groups killing and maiming children around the world, the oil-rich country threatened to withdraw funds from UN programs aiding Palestinian refugee children, prompting UN leader Ban Ki-Moon to remove the Kingdom from the ignoble list.
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Saudi Arabia's abuses in Yemen are hardly the half of it, rights advocates point out. Richard Bennet, head of Amnesty International's UN office, delves into the country's appalling record on human rights:
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.
"What's particularly shocking is the deafening silence of the international community," Bennett says, "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."
In an email to the Associated Press, the Saudi ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council said his country rejected what he described as "accusations" from the human rights groups.