Justin Salhani / ThinkProgress & Jeffrey Goldberg / The Atlantic – 2015-09-26 23:21:51
After Beheading 100 People This Year,
Saudi Arabia Joins UN Human Rights Council With US Support
Justin Salhani / ThinkProgress
(September 24, 2015) — The State Department has welcomed news that Saudi Arabia will head a UN Human Rights Council panel. Criticism has regularly been levelled at Saudi Arabia by human rights groups due to perennial human rights violations.
Saudi Arabia beheaded over 100 people this year through June. That’s already more than they beheaded in the entirety of 2014. The regime there is also known for its use of floggings and implementation of the death penalty against people convicted as minors.
A group of UN experts called on Saudi Arabia as recently as this week to spare the nephew of a prominent Shia cleric from beheading and crucifixion. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is regularly the target of international rights groups’ critiques due to their complete disregard for international human rights standards on free speech, freedom of religion, and a plethora of other violations.
“Saudi Arabia . . . systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, notably Twelver Shia and Ismailis,” a Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2015 report on Saudi Arabia reads. This development has been widely denounced by figures who see the appointment as a way for Saudi Arabia to justify their current practices.
“[The appointment] is like a green light to start flogging Raif Badawi again!” Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Badawi said according to AJ+. Badawi, who helped found an internet discussion channel to discuss religion and politics, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes earlier this year for insulting Islam. Rights groups have rallied to Badawi’s defense but Saudi Arabia has still given him at least 50 lashes to date.
Another case of criminal punishment has caught the world’s attention as of late and this case has come to light almost synonymously with the appointment of Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, to the human rights panel.
Ali-al Nimr, now 21, was arrested at 17-years-old for participating in a protest calling for social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif province. The area is largely inhabited by Shia Muslims, a minority that faces harsher penalties and less rights than the Sunni majority.
After his arrest, Nimr was convicted of belonging to a terror cell, attacking police with Molotov cocktails, incitement, and stoking sectarianism, CNN reported.
“Mr. al-Nimr did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer was not allowed to properly assist him and was prevented from accessing the case file,” independent experts told the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a recent interview, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner seemed to mangle his words when asked about Nirm’s case.
“I’m not aware of the trial that you — or the verdict — death sentence,” Toner told AP’s Matt Lee. Toner followed up by saying that the US and Saudi Arabia share close ties and maintain an active dialogue and that he hoped their involvement on the Human Rights Council panel would help encourage introspection.
Two other minors, also arrested in 2012 at the Qatif protests have also been sentenced to death and are at risk of imminent execution.
“It is scandalous,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, told CNN. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights.”
When Beheading Won’t Do the Job,
The Saudis Resort to Crucifixion:
The Stunning Human-rights Abuses of a US Ally
Jeffrey Goldberg / The Atlantic
(September 24, 2015) — For Saudi Arabia, sometimes it’s not enough to simply behead a person who has run afoul of the government: On some occasions, there’s nothing like crucifixion to make your point:
A group of UN experts has joined rights groups in calling on Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a Shiite man convicted of crimes reportedly committed as a teenager during protests inspired by the Arab Spring.
Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of firebrand Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, faces execution by beheading and an additional rare punishment of “crucifixion,” which means publicly displaying the body after death as a warning to others, according to Saudi state media.
Saudi Arabia, of course, is a world champion of human-rights abuse. Freedom, in all of its manifestations, is absent from the country. For an accounting of Saudi Arabia’s dismal human-rights record, please see Amnesty International’s latest country report.
(I would direct you to Human Rights Watch’s work, except that Human Rights Watch has a history of — believe it or not — fundraising in Saudi Arabia. It should not, of course, fundraise in any non-democratic, primary-target country, particularly one in which giving to a human-rights group could land the donor in terrible trouble.)
Naturally, Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record makes it, in the eyes of the United Nations, an expert on the subject: Saudi Arabia sits on the UN Human Rights Council and is even part of the committee that helps choose the council’s human-rights experts.
The UN Human Rights Council is already a debased body, whose members include Cuba, Venezuela, China, Pakistan, Qatar, and Vietnam. Providing Saudi Arabia with a leadership role in this group is an affront to morality and good sense.
It also puts the United States in a difficult position, as we saw earlier this week, when Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, was asked about Ali al-Nimr, and about the crucial role Saudi Arabia is meant to play in the advancement of human rights.
A transcript of the relevant exchange is posted below. I don’t know Toner, but I feel pity for any US government official who believes that he is forced by the nature of his job to cover up for Saudi Arabia:
QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you — or the verdict — death sentence.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when [he] was 17 years old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.
QUESTION: So you —
QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s — we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we —
QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given — I mean, how many pages is — does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?
MR. TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.
QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you [think] that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.
MR. TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human-rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.
So, the United State welcomes the leadership of Saudi Arabia on a body meant to expose the human-rights violations of countries like Saudi Arabia. This is straight-up “Alice in Wonderland” policymaking. There are reasons we are allies with Saudi Arabia, of course, but even Barack Obama has made it clear — even before he was president — that these reasons ought to be scrutinized.
By the way, I’m sure that Saudi Arabia will itself benefit from membership on the Human Rights Council. It will no doubt learn new and exciting torture techniques from its fellow members, some of whom might be able, for reasons of public relations, to guide Saudi Arabia away from crucifixion, and toward less outre forms of punishment.
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