By Prudence Arobani
Saudi Arabia has expressed “regret and pain” for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, during a scheduled review session at the UN in Geneva.
Dr Bandar Al-Aiban, President of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, and head of the country’s delegation, stated this at the 31st Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
He said Saudi was asserting its commitment to achieving the “highest possible standards” in human rights in the country, including for women and migrants
He confirmed that an investigation was still ongoing into the murder of Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2.
Al-Aiban told Member States that King Abdel-Aziz had personally initiated the probe.
Al-Aiban said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has already expressed its regret and pain for the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
“King Abdel-Aziz has already instructed the prosecution to proceed with the investigation into this case according to the applicable laws and preparation to reaching all facts and bringing all the perpetrators to justice in order to bear the facts to the public.”
Following Al-Aiban’s comments, 40 Member States appealed to Saudi Arabia to find out what had happened to Khashoggi, many also are calling for reform to the Kingdom’s freedom of expression laws.
Amid concerns over freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi representative insisted that it was a “guaranteed right”.
Al-Aiban’s noted the launch of “many multilingual television and radio channels” as evidence of people’s right to express their opinions.
The issue was picked up by many Member States, including Denmark, France, Germany and the United States, which although it is not a current member of the Human Rights Council, was permitted as a UN Member State to attend UPR discussions.
The United States specifically urged Saudi Arabia to more clearly define what constituted terrorism in law, so as not to criminalise expression, association or peaceful assembly.
Another non-Council member, the Russian Federation, meanwhile, echoed other countries’ comments that welcomed Saudi efforts to increase women’s participation in social and political life.
Russian Federation, however, expressed concern about possible violations of religious minorities, prisoners and detainees, amid reports of alleged torture in detention centres – and of migrant workers, who make up one-third of Saudi’s population.
In addition to many calls for the abolition of the death penalty amid concerns that its use was increasing in Saudi Arabia, Member States present also urged the kingdom to banish the practice of male guardianship of adult women.
Reforms of the practice had only been put in place “partially”, Switzerland’s delegation said, adding in most cases the discrimination against women “persists”.
The Swiss delegation explained: “Recent news tells us of the oppressive atmosphere creating lethal consequences.
“We call for freedom of expression to be reinforced, freedom of association and expression for all, ensuring security for all journalists and releasing from prison all those who have been imprisoned for freely expressing their opinions.”
A total of 97 countries spoke at the Universal Period Review of Saudi Arabia in Geneva.
Al-Aiban noted that Saudi Arabia had accepted more than 150 recommendations made at its last UPR appearance in addition to another 37 recommendations, which it had accepted partially.
According to UPR rules, all 193 UN Member States are reviewed by their peers, at a rate of 42 a year.
The body meets three times a year and reports to the UN Human Rights Council.
States that have been reviewed also receive recommendations, which they are expected to implement before their next review.