British lawyers have called for Saudi Arabia to be removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council, stating that the kingdom detains political and free speech activists without charge.
In a report released on Wednesday in London, Rodney Dixon QC and Lord Kenneth Donald John Macdonald said more than 60 individuals were detained in September last year, “many of whom are believed to be human rights defenders or political activists”.
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“Our main recommendation is that steps should be taken by the General Assembly to suspend the government of Saudi Arabia from the [UN] Human Rights Council,” Dixon told Al Jazeera.
It is “completely contradictory and ironic for a government with systemic patterns of abuse – as we have highlighted in the report – to be sitting on the council, and in fact previously to have chaired the council.
“That suspension will act as a major lever for the government to clean up their act and make a proper new start.”
The report, titled Shrouded in secrecy: the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia following arrests in September 2017, was commissioned by the relatives of detainees and will be forwarded to Saudi authorities.
Muslim leader held in solitary, hospitalised
Dixon urged Saudi Arabia to release all political detainees.
“Those detained have not been charged with any offence, and the information about the reasons for their arrests and circumstances of their imprisonment are very limited,” the report said.
“There is cause for serious concern about the treatment of many of those detained, including Mr Salman Al-Awda who has recently been hospitalised and others who are, effectively, disappeared.”
Awda is one of Saudi’s most popular Muslim leaders with almost 150 million followers on Twitter. He was recently hospitalised after five months of solitary confinement. It remains unclear why he was arrested.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from London, said: “While there may have been quite a lot of drama created by the very high-profile arrests at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which was targeting mainly princes, politicians and businessmen, less has been said about these arrests which have caused a lot of concern.
“According to the report, there are 30 arbitrarily detained and another 31 who have simply disappeared.”
Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman led the detentions of dozens of high-profile Saudis accused of corruption late last year. The group was held for months in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The kingdom announced on Tuesday that it had seized more than $100bn as part of its “anti-corruption purge”.
Saudi Arabia’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council expires in 2019.
“The suspension of membership rights is not simply a hypothetical possibility,” the report said.
In February 2011, the council called for Libya to be suspended as the government of Muammar Gaddafi was being accused of human rights violations against civilians during the uprising. A month later, the General Assembly voted for the suspension of Libya’s membership – marking the first time it has used its power to revoke a country’s membership.
Human rights groups have previously called for Saudi’s membership to be taken away, citing the kingdom’s involvement in the bloody war in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people.