(New York) – Saudi Arabia should take immediate steps to improve its human rights record as it campaigns for a three-year seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, six human rights groups said today in a letter to King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The UN General Assembly will vote for new members for the Human Rights Council on November 12, 2013.

The groups called on Saudi Arabia to signal its willingness to address ongoing human rights concerns by releasing all human rights and civil society activists jailed since 2011 on the basis of their peaceful exercise of freedoms of expression and association. They include Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abd al-Karim al-Khudr, and Raif Badawi. Saudi Arabia should also stop prosecutions of other rights defenders, including Mikhlif al-Shammari, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Fadhel al-Manasif.

“Saudi Arabia should make good on its professed commitment to human rights and stop persecuting citizens who call on the authorities to respect these rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia has a long way to go to improve its human rights record, but ending the crackdown on independent activists would be a start.”

The letter was sent by Human Rights Watch, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the East African and Horn Human Rights Defenders Project, and the International Service for Human Rights.

As a candidate for a seat on the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia should start cooperating with it, including with its experts who advise on human rights, the groups said. Saudi Arabia has seven outstanding requests from these experts to visit the country, including special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of expression and opinion, and human rights defenders. Saudi Arabia should immediately agree to these visits and schedule them for the earliest possible dates.

Saudi Arabia should also accept key recommendations made during the council’s periodic review of its human rights record, on October 21. The recommendations included ending the discriminatory male guardianship system, ending its use of the death penalty, especially for children, and ensuring adequate human rights protections and redress mechanisms for migrant workers.

Saudi Arabia should also ratify the core human rights treaties that form the foundation for the Human Rights Council’s work, the groups said. Of the 16 countries competing for seats on the council this year, only Saudi Arabia and South Sudan have failed to ratify both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.