Saudi Arabia stands accountable before international law

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SHAFAQNA – On January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabia committed atrocities when it ordered for the killing of 47 people, including prominent Shi’a cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The news prompted widespread outrage in the form of protests and social media reactions.

Following strong condemnations from public figures, and government officials, Saudi officials argued that any criticism to their rule was a de facto infringement against the kingdom’ s national sovereignty.

But the condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, does not represent intervention in the domestic affairs of the kingdom, and it does not contradict with the principle of non-intervention as expressed by modern international law. Under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which was reaffirmed by the international community in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit, sovereignty is not any more defined as an absolute authority and power over the destiny of the citizens of a sovereign state. Sovereignty is defined as a responsibility. It means that sovereignty can no longer be seen as a protection against interferences and so states can no longer claim to hide their wrongdoings beyond the veil of sovereignty.

On contrary, each state is primarily responsible to respect and protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, irrespective of their religion and race. If a state fails to do so, or if a state in itself violates the rights of its citizens: ie crimes against humanity, aggravated human rights violations  the  international community as a whole is obligated to weigh in.

It is the responsibility of the international community to step in and intervene.

The condemnation and prevention of atrocities, such as committed by the Saudi regime represent therefore not only a moral obligation, but a legal responsibility – a requirement.

Saudi Arabia has systematically discriminated against its Shia citizens, who constitute around 15 percent of the population. The Saudi government has deprived Shiites their fundamental rights. This deprivation embraces a wide range of rights from access to public education to the freedom of religion and ability to ability to practice the religion freely. The execution of Sheikh al-Nimr is a major piece of the puzzle that proves that Saudi Arabia has persecuted Shiites within and without its territory.

Persecution is a criminal behavior that underlies crimes against of humanity. The persecution, in the meaning of the Rome Statute, as the constituent instrument of the International Criminal Court, is the severe deprivation of one or more persons from the fundamental rights, including the right to life, by reason of the identity of a religious or cultural group or collectivity or targeted the group or collectivity as such.

The persecution of Shiites in Saudi Arabia is rooted in state policy.

An attack in the meaning of crimes against humanity is not necessarily a military or violent attack, but in its legal sense it means a course of conduct and a campaign targeting a population. The proof of such attack and the policy supporting it. does not only lie within the territory of Saudi Arabia, but it can be seen in Bahrain and Yemen as well, where the Saudi regime supports and promoted unimaginable atrocities against Shiites. Within its territory, the Saudi regime is committing crimes against humanity — through persecution, murder and extermination of Shiites and in the context of armed conflicts or political tensions.

The campaign and attack that has been launched against Shiites in Saudi Arabia was best manifested in the unfair execution of a peaceful Shia cleric: Sheikh al-Nimr. King Salman himself should be held accountable as he signed off on the order.

It is the responsibility of the international community to avoid closing its eyes on those crimes the Saudi regime has committed, and take the initiative to give a voice to the oppressed.

In view of Riyadh criminal policies, Saudi Arabia should not longer be allowed to hold its chair position at the UN Human Rights Council. Steps must be taken so that Riyadh face to the legal realities of its criminal infringements.
By Mohammad Hadi Zakerhossein,  Director of the Iranian Center for International Criminal Law – exclusively for Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies

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