Saudi Arabia has accused the Australian government of racism and of supporting anti-Islamic terrorists like the alleged Christchurch shooter, in an extraordinary dispute that has erupted at the United Nations.
Earlier this week, Australia led a coalition of countries condemning Saudi Arabia over a raft of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Australia’s ambassador to the UN, Sally Mansfield, delivered a statement on behalf of 24 nations to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, excoriating the Saudi kingdom for systematic violence and human rights abuses, particularly against those who oppose the ruling regime.
The Australian mission to the UN was a key drafter and organiser of the statement. Other backers of the statement included the UK, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
“We remain deeply concerned at the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia,” Mansfield said. “Civil society actors in Saudi Arabia still face persecution and intimidation. Human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, journalists and dissidents remain in detention, or under threat. We are concerned at reports of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, and harassment of individuals engaged in promoting and defending human rights, their families and colleagues.”
Saudi Arabia itself is a member of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, though the country’s ambassador was not in the room to hear the speech, having left to host his country’s national day reception.
But a day later the Saudi ambassador, Abdulaziz Alwasil, launched an extraordinary broadside, targeting Australia.
He said minorities, migrants and Muslims face “horrific violations of human rights … racist and extremist policies”.
“Unfortunately, these have become popular and even accepted by some western parliaments, they are even sponsored by certain governments.
“We see in some countries, radicalism against Muslims, we see xenophobia, racism. And some governments sympathise with them, like Australia. Here we refer to the massacre perpetrated by Brenton Tarrant – an Australian – which was based on hate speech.”
Alwasil condemned Australia’s speech as ill-informed.
“We have listened with great surprise to the statement of Australia on behalf of a group of states. In it, there are many mistakes and misleading information against my country. The Kingdom continues its reform policies in accordance with its values and Islamic teachings, especially with regards to the rights of women.”
The coalition of mainly western countries said Saudi Arabia needed to demonstrate genuine accountability for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
Saudi officials at first denied responsibility for Khashoggi’s death, but eventually admitted he had been killed inside the consulate. A report published in June by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions said there was credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The report also said that the circumstances “point to a possible act of torture.”
“It is important that truth be established and accountability be achieved … for Mr Khashoggi’s loved ones … we call for an end to impunity for torture and extrajudicial killings,” the statement read by the Australian ambassador said.