The United Nations is coming under fire for handing Saudi Arabia a key human rights role, even though the country has one of the worst human rights records in the world.
The Human Rights Council, or HRC, is the United Nations body responsible for promoting global human rights. It has long been the subject of criticism for granting membership to countries with terrible human rights’ records, and in addition to Saudi Arabia, dubious members include China, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela.
At the end of September, Saudi ambassador Faisal bin Hassan Trad was selected as the head of an important panel. This five-person panel possesses power to select applicants globally for more than 77 key positions that oversee human rights violations and mandates.
That means Trad—and, through him, Saudi Arabia—will have huge influence on the monitoring and enforcement of human rights around the world.
Consider Saudi Arabia’s recent human rights record: The country’s leading religious authorities called to burn down all churches in the nation. Saudi textbooks call Jews the descendants of “apes and pigs.” Christians are forbidden from wearing crosses, building churches or importing bibles.
Women are denied the right to drive. They are also not allowed to obtain a passport, marry, travel or access higher education without the approval of a male guardian.
Freedom of speech fares poorly, too. Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes with a whip for merely criticizing Islam.
Given all this, for Saudi Arabia to be included into the HRC at all is a slap in the face. But for them to head the “crown jewel” of the council is beyond parody.
Why then, has this infamous country been appointed to a high position in the HRC?
Some speculate that Saudi oil money has “greased the skids” and obtained the seat corruptly. Another theory suggests that the prominence of the position might force the nation to curtail its hypocrisy. Given Saudi Arabia’s power in the region, a positive shift in their policies could have a magnified impact on neighboring nations.
Regardless of how or why they attained this office, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia now has unprecedented influence in the HRC.
The HRC website states: “The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 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.”
As if in perfect counterpoint, Saudi Arabia recently advertised to hire eight new executioners to carry out more public beheadings. This year, the Saudis beheaded more people than the Islamic State, or ISIS, did.
A starker contrast to human rights values would be hard to find. Even more than the executed Saudi criminals, the United Nations leaders have lost their heads.