Today, Iceland led a group of countries at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to improve the situation of human rights in the country. This is the first time that Saudi Arabia is subject to such collective criticism in the Council; an initiative that marks a turning point. Mr. Harald Aspelund, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the Human Rights Council, delivered the joint statement on behalf of 36 states.
In the statement, the group of states expresses significant concerns about the situation of human rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in particular the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists.
The statement also condemns the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, demanding an independent and unbiased investigation of his murder and that those responsible be held to account. It also underlines the importance of safeguarding the freedom of speech throughout the world.
The 36 states also criticize the use of the counter-terrorism law and other national security provisions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights and freedoms. In particular, they call for the release of ten named individuals: Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon al-Fassi, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan al-Anezi.
Iceland was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time last July but had previously been active as an observer. A total of 47 members of the United Nations are members of the Council. The statement was delivered on behalf of the following states, in addition to Iceland: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
"Human rights remain a priority in Iceland's foreign policy and we take our responsibility as an elected member of the Human Rights Council seriously. Members of the Council should lead by example and address urgent issues such as the status of human rights in Saudi Arabia. We therefore took the initiative to gather a large group of states in a joint statement and I am grateful for the strong support we have received. We are in the Human Rights Council to make a difference – and even speak out when others stay silent," says Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Foreign Minister.