Why is Saudi Arabia now an authority on the UN Human Rights Council?

No, I’m afraid it’s not a joke. Saudi Arabia, which as a legitimate regime is arguably the worst defiler of human rights in the world, is now a leading authority within the Human Rights Council (HRC). Faisal bin Hassad Trad has been elected to chair a panel of independent experts on the HRC. According to the watchdog group UN Watch, this particular panel is responsible for selecting “top officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide”. While it is important to note that Mr Hassad Trad only oversees one particular panel, and not the entire HRC, Saudi Arabia nevertheless does sit on the HRC and earlier in the year attempted to gain the leadership of the entire human rights council.

576338-e1442772217558-635x357Faisal bin Hassad Trad presenting his credentials to the acting director general of UN Office at Geneva

Why this barbaric Kingdom has a seat in the council at all is bewildering considering their appalling human rights record.  Although the US, Japan, Pakistan, Vietnam and the UAE still use executions, Saudi Arabia’s execution list nearly doubled all of these countries put together in 2014. And in the first six months of 2015 alone, they have beheaded over 100 people – reportedly more than Islamic State. Additionally, the methods of the Saudis belong in the dark ages. Just two days ago, it was reported that Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr will be crucified and beheaded for his role in anti-government protests. He was only 17 at the time of his arrest, but because the UN takes exception to the state-sanctioned murder of anyone under 18, the Saudis have had to wait a few years to deliver justice. There are also claims that al-Nimr was the victim of torture and did not receive a fair trial. Furthermore, there are regular instances involving whippings and mutilations for crimes such as adultery and homosexuality, not to mention the case of free speech blogger Raif Badawi who has recently been sentenced to 1,000 lashes with a cane.

Raif-Badawi_Raif Badawi

Badawi’s wife said the decision has given the Saudi government “a green light to start flogging again”. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer sums the situation up perfectly where he explains “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela amongst its elected members”. He goes onto say that “It’s a sad comment on our world that oil continues to trump basic human rights principles”.

And there we have it. Why do ‘civilised’ Western leaders absolutely refuse to condemn Saudi Arabia? Oil. Britain and the U.S, who so duplicitously claim to lead the way on human rights and freedom, have been shown to actively encourage Saudi Arabia’s behaviour. I touched on this when I questioned our reluctance to condemn the Saudis for their lacklustre response to the vast amounts of money making its way from their country into the hands of ISIS in an earlier piece. More ridiculously though, when asked for a response to Faisal bin Hassad Trad’s appointment, the US said “we would welcome it”. And to add the cherry on top, documents leaked in the last couple of days suggest the UK actively helped Saudi Arabia gain their seat on the HRC in exchange for votes.

Among the 61,000 documents released by wikileaks are classified Saudi foreign ministry files referring to exchanges with British diplomats ahead a vote towards the back end of 2013. Apparently, Britain approached Saudi Arabia to ask for its support in secrecy. One of these files, translated by UN Watch, read thus;

“The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.”

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another file divulged that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for the “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. Where this money has gone, no one knows. Regardless, it all looks very fishy and very embarrassing for Cameron’s government. Again, Neuer takes the words straight out of my mouth when he says “Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights.” He added that “UN Watch finds it troubling that the UK refuses to deny the London-Riyadh vote-trade as contemplated in the Saudi cable, nor even to reassure the public that their voting complies with the core reform of the UNHRC’s founding resolution, which provides that candidates be chosen based on their human rights record, and that members be those who uphold the highest standards of human rights.”

So, the fact that the Gulf Kingdom has the lowest standards of human rights didn’t put Hammond et al off, but then is that really so surprising? We have a long history of sponsoring tyrants and human rights abuses for our own benefit. What a strange state of affairs that states such as Saudi Arabia get a seat on the HRC ahead of states like Australia. But then, as Neuer says, oil trumps human rights.

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