Saudis Eye Human Rights Chair

Despite an abysmal human rights record, Saudi Arabia reportedly hopes to chair the UN’s Human Rights Council, a test of how far money can go in buying the world’s silence and acquiescence, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

It’s hard to be shocked by anything that happens in the Middle East, but this act of chutzpah comes close: Saudi Arabia is lobbying to head the United Nations Human Rights Council when the current German president’s term expires at the end of this year, according to Le Tribune de Genève.

Human rights activists have been stunned by the news. “It is unthinkable!” exclaimed a spokeswoman for Amnesty International.

King Salman the President and First Lady to a reception room at Erga Palace during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman the President and First Lady to a reception room at Erga Palace during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Other recent events put a special pall on the news. As the London Independent observed, “Reports of the bid come just days after Saudi Arabia posted a job advertisement for eight new executioners.” In early May, Saudi Arabia reportedly beheaded five foreign criminals and then hung their bodies from helicopters, an act that would have garnered headlines if committed by ISIS.

The U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report offers page after page of Saudi violations covering an almost encyclopedic range of abuses, including “citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers.”

It also cites reports of “torture and other abuses; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; holding political prisoners and detainees; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence,” as well as “violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity.”

Last year, according to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia continued to jail peaceful dissidents and human rights activists and engage in “systematic discrimination” against women and religious minorities. It sentenced two prominent activists to 15 years in prison, travel bans and huge fines for crimes including “contact with foreign news organizations to exaggerate the news,” and “circulating his phone number to [foreign] news agencies to allow them to call him.”

Saudi authorities also sentenced the blogger Raif Badawi to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam on his website and in television interviews. Despite a huge international protest, Badawi suffered the first 50 lashes of his punishment this January, and is now threatened with beheading, his family said.

For every case of public flogging, countless other prisoner abuses take place behind closed walls. Amnesty International reports that “Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and sentenced prisoners” appear to be “common, widespread and generally committed with impunity. Reported methods included beating, suspension by the limbs and sleep deprivation.”

The victims of Saudi “justice” range beyond ordinary criminals and political dissidents. A year ago, the Saudi government reported that prosecutors had filed charges of sorcery in 191 cases, punishable by death, in the seven months through May 2014. Many of the accused were female foreign domestic workers who reported employer abuses.

Women remain subjugated under Saudi law, required to cover themselves in public from head to toe, and forbidden to marry, attend college, obtain a passport or visit a male doctor without permission of a male guardian.

There are no signs that the Saudi monarchy, newly led by the fiercely Islamist King Salman, plans to change its ways. “In January, he [Salman] replaced the head of the religious police who was seen as trying to curb excesses of the force,” reported the New York Times. “He has also dismissed the deputy education minister, the only woman in such a high-level cabinet post, and appointed as a royal adviser a cleric whom King Abdullah had dismissed for criticizing the country’s first coed university.”

King Salman also appointed his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince and heir to the throne. As former Interior Minister and counterterrorism chief, Nayef took charge of arresting and torturing peaceful dissidents and branding critical speech as “terrorism,” without judicial review.

U.S. officials have said almost nothing publicly critical of Saudi human rights practices, outside of published State Department reports, just as they have pandered to Riyadh over its military interventions in Yemen and Bahrain.

In 2013, Washington did not oppose Saudi Arabia’s election to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, according to UN Watch. If the Obama administration and the European Union now stand by and let Saudi Arabia preside over that commission next year, they will truly destroy its credibility and undermine the cause of human rights everywhere.

Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; and Israels Plan to Kill Lebanese Civilians.]

6 comments for “Saudis Eye Human Rights Chair

  1. GrandmaR
    May 30, 2015 at 22:25

    I’ll see your Saudi headchopper as UN human rights defender, and raise you one Ukrainian chocolate king mass murderer/genocidist with a Nobel peace prize.

    What next?

  2. Peter Loeb
    May 27, 2015 at 05:39


    Israel has expressed its goal of re-writing international law
    on human rights. The present formulation ratified by Israel
    does not permit either its current or future actions.

    A part of the Israeli effort evidently includes taking over
    the Chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission by
    Israeli and US ally, Saudi Arabia. (This is the same nation
    which refused to serve on the UN Security Council.)

    One can only hope that Russia and China will veto this.

    As far as Palestinians are concerned, Israel and the US
    would continue to maintain that there are no crimes
    against humanity or war crimes by new “law” which
    Israel and the US will carefully design to ensure their

    (Not only is Washington silent but it has just allocated
    1.9 BILLION dollars to Israel for defense. See article
    by Rania Khalek in the “Electronic Intifada” or her
    own blog.)

    I urge all those with greater knowledge of UN processes
    to find ways to block these Israeli-Saudi-US moves.

    Failing this, the message will be that in some case—particularly
    those that benefit some interests, a some murder, a some
    state terror, some defiance of international law will be
    considered acceptable.

    (This is reminiscent of the manipulation of “the law” in a US
    dominated by the bondage of African Americans who, after
    all were considered really sub human and were defined
    as a threat to the powers that be—and are still.)

    Of course, it is NOT but will the UN itself have the guts to
    protect itself and its own laws and agreements?

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, M, USA

  3. Bill Bodden
    May 26, 2015 at 12:22

    Perhaps the Saudis see perpetrating the cruelties described in the above article as one of their human rights, a Middle Eastern version of Orwell’s “some people are more equal than others.” Given our leaders’ tendency to go along with this and other blatant hypocrisies for so long they must be at risk of having their minds permanently warped.

  4. Abe
    May 25, 2015 at 15:32

    The Saudis will be warming up the seat for their ally, Israel.

  5. Deschutes
    May 25, 2015 at 15:18

    I don’t like to visit this website too often as…erm…it is so fucking depressing. Really. I mean, can you imagine? A goddamned Saudi head-chopper leading the UN “human rights” chair!? This is not unlike Adolf Hitler leading a “Jewish Defense League” in WWII Germany! What a backwards, horrible place Saudi Arabia is: without their oil, what are they? Nothing. Look at the history, until oil was discovered there, they were primitives riding around on camels, living in thatched huts chopping each other’s heads off at the slightest offense. Equally sickening is the US government status quo of money whores: Obama, Clintons, Bushes, etc: as the article says, they’ve been bribed by the Saudis so they don’t say a word critical of that most vile, repulsive camel jockey monarchy: a place where women cannot leave the house alone; drive a car; and slavery is still commonplace.

    • jer
      May 27, 2015 at 20:43

      The U.S. together with its current top global Takfiri ally …… and hand in hand, or rather hand in glove with the powerful western media are now prostituting human rights in a most vile and highly unabashed and shameless manner. Rumour has it that many secret Takfirs’ pure-gold-coated washrooms were made possible with deals approved straight out of Washington.

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