Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (NI) – ‘All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.’ Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, at the Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session
Article 55 of the United Nations Charter demands: ‘Universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’ Yet in diametrical opposition to these fine founding aspirations, the UN recently appointed Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the UN Human Rights Council, as Chair of an influential human rights panel. The appointment was seemingly made in June, but only came to light on 17 September, due to documents obtained by UN Watch.
As Chair, Trad will have the power to ‘select applicants from around the world for scores of expert roles in countries where the UN has a mandate on human rights’.
Such experts are often described as the ‘crown jewels’ of the Human Rights Council, according to UN Watch. Thus control over the ‘crown jewels’ – at least 77 posts to deal with human rights violations and mandates – has been handed to a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. In a spectacular new low even for a UN whose former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, took 18 months to admit publicly that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal, it has chosen ‘a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key Human Rights panel’.
In May, just prior to the appointment, the Saudi government advertised for 8 extra executioners to ‘carry out an increasing number of death sentences, which are usually beheadings, carried out in public’. By 15 June, executions had reached 100, ‘far exceeding last year’s tally and putting [Saudi Arabia] on course for a new record,’ according to The Independent.
The paper notes that ‘the rise in executions can be directly linked to new King Salman and his recently-appointed inner circle’.
In January, on the death of King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah (during whose reign the current record of 192 executions in one year was reached), Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron ordered flags to be flown at half mast, including at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This led one MP to wonder: ‘On the day that flags at Whitehall are flying at half-mast for King Abdullah, how many public executions will there be?’
The country is currently preparing to behead 21-year-old Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. He was arrested aged 17 for participating in anti-government protests and possessing firearms, though the latter charge has been consistently denied. Human rights groups are appalled at the sentence and the flimsy case against him, but point out that ‘neither factors are unusual in today’s Saudi Arabia’.
Numerous reports cite torture as being widespread, despite Saudi Arabia having subscribed to the UN Convention Against Torture. There are also ongoing protests at Saudi embassies across the world highlighting the case of blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 lashes a week after Friday prayers – and 10 years in prison for blogging about free speech.
Since March, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen – with no UN mandate – destroying schools, hospitals, homes, public buildings and a camp for internally displaced people, generating ‘a trail of civilian death and destruction’ which may have amounted to war crimes, according to Amnesty International. Close to 4,000 people, of whom half are civilians and hundreds children, have been killed in the conflict and over a million have been displaced.
A Saudi Arabian leading the Human Rights Council at the UN is straight out of one of George Orwell’s most nightmarish political fantasies. The website of the UN Human Right’s Council states: ‘The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. We have a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights.’
Way to go, folks.