Overlooked by the UN: Saudi Arabia’s ceaseless breach of human rights

Feature: Written by Samantha Holmes.

The international community is calling for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to have its Asia-Pacific seat suspended from the UN Human Rights Council – as the state continues to uphold its long record of human rights abuse.

International leaders believe it is an insult that Saudi Arabia, which  was voted the fifth most authoritarian government in the world by the Economist Democracy Index, represents one of the most important inter-governmental bodies in the world for protecting and promoting universal human rights.

During its council membership, Saudi Arabia launched a self-led airstrike coalition against Houthi forces in Yemen – which Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who are at the forefront of the campaign to suspend Saudi Arabia, have reported as killing nearly 1000 civilians with their unlawful weapons. This makes the state responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together.

Moreover, human right conditions within the country are no better. Last year, Saudi Arabia executed a record high of 151 citizens and so far this year there have been 99, with many predicting that this figure will continue to rise significantly higher than that of 2015.

Corporal punishments such as flogging, amputations and stoning are carried out regularly – which are all evident violations against human rights. It is these elements of ultra-conservative Islam, as claimed by members of the Saudi Arabian government, which allow citizens to be subjects of cruel and degrading treatment.

Despite efforts to overcome the issue – such as the enforcement of The Arab Charter of Human Rights, which was adopted in an attempt to create an equilibrium between the Western standards of human rights and Middle Eastern cultures, Saudi Arabia has done little to comply and protect its people.

Torture continues within prisons and detention centres, although the government denies that there is any ill-treatment of its detainees. The unwillingness of defendants to describe their experiences in fear of being victims of further abuse proves that Saudi Arabia is getting away with human right abuses not fit for the 21st century.

The efforts of NGO’s

ALQST, a non-governmental organisation which specifically focuses on human rights cases in Saudi Arabia, highlights its concern on the continuing crackdown of human rights activists, a measure to eradicate any challenge to this authoritative government.

For example, members of the ACPRA, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, are currently imprisoned following peaceful human rights protests and calls for political reform. Many received lengthy prison sentences after unfair trials heard in the Specialised Criminal Court – which was originally set up to deal with terrorism. ALQST are amid campaigns for the release and fair trial of the unjust prisoners.

Yahya Assiri, human rights activist and head of ALQST, said: “Saudi Arabia is contributing financially to UN projects and institutions, which poses a difficult dilemma for the UN:  whether to go ahead and accuse the Saudis of war crimes – at the risk of a number of projects being put on hold; or to ensure that the funding continues – at the price of turning a blind eye to Saudi violations of human rights.”

“A number of governments and regimes – even those that supposedly respect democracy and human rights – are willing to do the Saudis’ bidding and overlook human rights abuses.”

Furthermore, there were also leaked documents which appeared to show UK and Saudi diplomats agreeing to support each other’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Council –  who blacklisted Saudi Arabia earlier this year – were then pressured into removing them from the blacklist only one weak later, in spite of the country’s use of internationally-banned cluster bombs in Yemen, which killed a number of innocent civilians.

Saudi Arabia continues to focus intensively on their political position both nationally and internationally, in turn overlooking basic human rights laws – which should be repeatedly reinforced by the UN if it is to remain part of the council.


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