At least 36 countries, including all 28 EU members, signed a statement condemning Saudi Arabia's human rights record, particularly regarding the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, diplomats have reported.
The statement is the first rebuke for the kingdom since the U.N. forum was set up in 2006.
The text read out by Harald Aspelund, Iceland's ambassador to the Geneva talks, called on Saudi authorities to cooperate with a U.N.-led probe into the murder Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.
"It is a success for Europe to be united on this," an envoy of an EU country told Reuters.
Apart from the 28 EU countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Montenegro, Norway, Iceland and Monaco also signed the statement. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to release women activists allegedly tortured in detention after authorities accused them of harming the country's interests.
Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh initially denied any role in the killing but has since sought to blame his death on a botched operation carried out by rogue agents.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio ripped Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Wednesday, saying he has gone "full gangster" and is making the U.S.-Saudi relationship "increasingly untenable."
"He has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational on his foreign policy approach, and I think increasingly willing to test the limits on what he can get away with," Rubio said.
He further called the crown prince "reckless" and "ruthless," with his actions over the past two years being reminiscent of a James Bond film.
Rubio was speaking during a Senate confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, retired Army Gen. John Abizaid.
Despite increasing tension between Washington and Riyadh, the United States has not had an ambassador to the kingdom since Trump became U.S. president in January 2017.
The hearing was used by senators to air grievances they had toward the Trump administration's approach to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, and more specifically with the crown prince.
"I have been disappointed with the administration's public posture towards Saudi Arabia," said Sen. Bob Menendez. "Our leaders cannot credibly call on the world stage and demand accountability for human rights abuses, while giving a wink and a nod to the crown prince," he added.
The Trump administration missed a February deadline to report to Congress on who was responsible for Khashoggi's death. In Saudi Arabia, 11 suspects have been indicted in the murder, and officials have rejected accusations that MBS ordered the killing. The report was required after lawmakers last year triggered a provision of the 2016 Global Magnitsky human rights act requiring the Trump administration to conduct an investigation.
Lawmakers, including Trump's fellow Republicans, have been strongly critical of the Saudi crown prince. Some blame him for Khashoggi's killing and other human rights abuses.
Saudi Arabia is "also our most difficult partner right now, because it almost asks us to agree to stay silent on grotesque violations of human rights, both domestically and abroad," Rubio indicated, adding: "And their crown prince is not making things easier. He is increasingly making it untenable."
In November, the president announced that he would be nominating Abizaid for the position after the killing of Khashoggi.
Abizaid stressed that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is much bigger than Washington's relationship with the crown prince and said he wants to help the kingdom move forward.
After graduating from the United States Military Academy, Abizaid went on to serve as a four-star general who oversaw the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which conducted military operations in the Middle East.