Saudi Arabia

Hypocrisy at the Human Rights Council: backroom deals and the elevation of repressive Saudi Arabia

Amelia Cooper

The hypocrisy of the UN Human Rights Council has once again revealed itself, with the appointment of Saudi Arabia as the chair on a panel of independent experts.  

From high profile cases, such as the flogging and imprisonment of Raif Badawi, to systematic and entrenched discrimination against women, minorities and dissidents, the Kingdom demonstrates its disdain for human rights and civil liberties on a daily basis. 

Despite this, however, the country enjoys member status at the UN Human Rights Council. Not only does their position undermine a fundamental membership condition, to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’, news recently broke that gaining their position included a clandestine vote-trading deal with Britain. 

Leaked diplomatic cables from the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry to the British state that “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 cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 to Britain for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. How this money has been spent remains unclear; however, these cables suggest that Britain was essentially contracted to bolster the reputation of one of the most repressive and abusive states in the world. As such, Britain is complicit in the whitewashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation and the subversion of the foundational principles of the Human Rights Council. 

As if this isn’t bad enough, Saudi Arabia has just been selected as head of a five-person panel of independent experts, charged with appointing experts to fill UN mandate positions. It is a highly influential role, with the power of shaping approaches to thematic and country-specific roles through the selection of specific candidates. Saudi Arabia’s appointment has been met with anger and indignation – justifiably so – by activists worldwide. Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi and leader of an international campaign to free him, said that giving the position to Saudi Arabia was effectively “a green light to start flogging [him] again”.

Saudi Arabia’s position as a member of the Council makes an absolute mockery of the UN system, underscored by the dubious circumstances in which they were elected. Their recent elevation, however, pours salt in the wounds of those languishing under a repressive and brutal state.