PRESS RELEASE

UN Watch calls on Saudis to pull out of Nov. 12 election to Human Rights Council

GENEVA, October 21, 2013 – As the UN Human Rights Council scrutinized Saudi Arabia’s domestic rights record this morning, a minority of democracies such as Canada, UK, and the Czech Republic raised concerns about women’s rights, while the vast majority of African, Asian and Latin American countries lined up to defend and praise one of the world’s most repressive theocratic regimes. (See below today’s statements praising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.)

Out of 95 countries who took the floor, 82 praised Saudi Arabia.  “What we witnessed today was another meeting of what has sadly turned into a mutual praise society, with anti-democratic regimes like Communist China heaping praise on fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, while tomorrow, as China gets reviewed, the Saudis will return the favor,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch, which has for years testified before UN bodies on Saudi Arabia’s oppression of women and on its other gross and systematic human rights abuses.

Despite widespread recognition of Saudi Arabia’s “abysmal record on the rights of women, religious freedom, and political liberties,” Neuer said the country is poised to win a seat on the Human Rights Council in elections to be held on November 12th by the UN General Assembly. Riyadh stunned the world on Friday by rejecting a UN Security Council seat.

UN Watch and a coalition of human rights groups are urging U.S. ambassador Samantha Power and EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton to take the lead in opposing the Saudi bid for a UNHRC seat, which Neuer called “the height of hypocrisy.” Over the coming weeks, UN Watch will be bringing famous dissidents inside the UN to mobilize opposition to the Saudi and other “absurd candidacies.”  

“Making Saudi Arabia a world judge on women’s rights and religious freedom would be like naming a pyromaniac as the town fire chief,” said Neuer.

After Saudi Arabia presented the HRC with a 30-page report on its human rights record, the council today held a three-hour “interactive dialogue,” with almost 100 states making statements and Saudi delegates periodically responding. The exercise is known as the “universal periodic review” (UPR), which examines every U.N. member state once every four years. Tomorrow is China’s turn.

“A country whose legal system routinely lashes women rape victims rather than punish the perpetrators should not have been praised effusively by members of the UN’s top human rights body,” said Neuer.

“Instead the world should have addressed the Saudi regime’s use of cruel, inhuman and degrading
punishments, such as flogging, amputations and eye-gouging,” said Neuer, who noted that these and other abuses were amply documented in written submissions to the UN by Amnesty International and other NGOs.

“Why did no one challenge the Saudi regime on the 53 Christians who were arrested this year by their religious police for the crime of praying in a private home, or that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, with gays publicly beheaded?” asked Neuer.

UN Watch commended the small minority of countries who challenged the Saudis. Canada slammed Saudi Arabia’s violations on religious freedom and the rights of women, calling for an end to the prohibition on women driving. Ireland called for abolishing the male guardianship system. Germany spoke against child marriages. The UK criticized Saudi criminal law. The Czech Republic spoke for the freedoms of speech, expression, and association.

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WIDESPREAD UNHRC PRAISE FOR SAUDI ARABIA’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD

Turkey: “We commend Saudi Arabia for the significant rise of women in civil service”
Tunisia: “We commend Saudi Arabia for efforts to adapt its laws with international human rights conventions…”
Palestine: “We take notice of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to protect and promote human rights…”
Somalia: “Saudi Arabia maintains a high priority for protection and promotion of human rights…”
Pakistan: Commended “laudable steps taken by Saudi Arabia to promote and protect the rights of children and women…”
Nicaragua: “We note Saudi Arabia’s progress in rights of the child, trafficking of persons, and legislative change for women’s rights…”
Mauritania, VP of the UNHRC (and a country that practices slavery): “We commend Saudi Arabia for always seeking to strengthen human rights…We commend Saudi Arabia in terms of the progress on guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms, socioeconomic progress, participation of women at all levels and participation in society. We hope to see greater prosperity and progress for Saudi Arabia.”
Maldives: “We commend Saudi Arabia’s improvement on the situation of women.”
Libya: “Saudi Arabia continues to strengthen human rights and promote them and this deserves our appreciation…”
Egypt: “We commend Saudi Arabia’s progress to protect and promote human rights, and welcome work done to strengthen role of women…”
France: “We commend Saudi Arabia with its progress in the role of women in society…”
Denmark: “We commend #SaudiArabia’s progress in the promotion of rights for women in recent years…”
Cuba: “We commend Saudi Arabia for the implementation of recommendations made in the first cycle. Many areas of positive results: education, health…”
China: “We appreciate efforts made to protect the rights of children and to have dialogues of religious tolerance…”
Cambodia: “We take note of progress in human employment, education, and social security…”
Afghanistan: “We commend Saudia Arabia as they continue to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights…”
Vietnam: “Commend Saudi Arabia’s efforts in combating human trafficking and discrimination; these are encouraging…”
Venezuela: “Enrollment in primary education has reached 96.6%. We congratulate Saudi Arabia…”

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