Saudi Arabia faces first-ever censure at UN rights forum

Saudi Arabia faces first-ever censure at UN rights forum

GENEVA- Reuters
Saudi Arabia faces first-ever censure at UN rights forum

European countries will urge Saudi Arabia this week to release detained activists and cooperate with a U.N.-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the first rebuke of the kingdom at the Human Rights Council, diplomats and campaigners said.

The joint statement, due to be read out on March 7, comes amid growing concern about the fate of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women's rights activists, after the public prosecutor was reported to be preparing their trials.

Iceland has led the initiative, winning support from European countries and possibly delegations from other regions for the criticism of Saudi Arabia, a member of the 47-nation forum, activists said.

"We believe that members of the Council have a particular responsibility to lead by example and put on the Council's agenda human rights issues that warrant our collective attention," an Icelandic diplomat told Reuters, adding rights in Saudi Arabia was one such instance and this view was shared by numerous countries.

Activists welcomed the move. Iceland was elected last year to take a seat on the

In a statement welcoming what it said would be the first collective action at the council addressing human rights in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said rights council members should demand that Saudi Arabia cooperate with probes into Khashoggi's murder, stop targeting activists, journalists and critics and release wrongfully detained people.

A Saudi minister told the Geneva talks last week that the kingdom would cooperate with its mechanisms, but he did not explicitly refer to the Khashoggi inquiry led by Agnes Callamard, U.N. investigator on extra-judicial executions.