The elevation of Saudi Arabia (in what appears now a secret deal with England) in 2013 to the United Nations Human Rights Council was to say the least controversial. After all, the Kingdom denies basic rights to women, bars basic religious freedom for non-Muslim (including the construction of any church in the Kingdom), engages in torture, and applies a medieval Sharia law that imposes grotesque and draconian punishments. It is widely viewed as the appropriate target (not a member) of the Council. Saudi Arabia has not wasted time in obstructing human rights measures. This week for example the Kingdom blocked plans for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen despite massive death counts among civilians in the last six months. It also announced at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that it will opposed any and all protections for gay people as anti-Islamic.
The Netherlands were forced to withdraw the draft of a resolution instructing the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war. This was done despite the recommendations by the commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who detailed in a report this month the heavy civilian casualties. The Saudis are involved in the war, attacking Houthi rebels. The Dutch resolution also called for the warring parties to allow access to humanitarian groups seeking to deliver aid and to the commercial import of goods like fuel that are needed to keep hospitals running.
Instead, a new resolution supports a decree, issued by the exiled Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, appointing a national commission of inquiry. It asks the United Nations human rights office only “to provide technical assistance and to work with the government of Yemen, as required, in the field of capacity building.” Hadi is supported by Saudi Arabia.
In the meantime, Saudi appeared before the Council to demand respect for the criminalization of homosexuality under Islamic Sharia law, which also bans smoking, drinking, and sex outside marriage. In July 2014, one gay man was sentenced to three years in jail for “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality.”
If England did carry out a secret deal to get the Saudi’s on the council, it would rank as truly one of the most cynical (if not Faustian) bargains in history.