At UN Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia Chairs Panel Vetting Applicants for ‘Violence Against Women’ Post

Patrick Goodenough | September 21, 2015 | 3:19am EDT
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Saudi ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Faisal bin Hassan Trad Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office at Geneva . (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

( – The U.N.’s Human Rights Council over the summer quietly appointed Saudi Arabia as head of a panel responsible for interviewing and shortlisting experts focusing on a range of human rights-related themes.

Among the candidates for posts considered at meetings chaired by the Saudi ambassador to the HRC, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, since May was one dealing with “violence against women, its causes and consequences” and another focused on “the independence of judges and lawyers.”

The kingdom is frequently cited by human rights advocacy groups and Western governments for the fairness of its judiciary and its treatment of women. (Last year Saudi Arabia was in 13th last place out of 142 countries, evaluated by the World Economic Forum for gaps between women and men in the areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.)

The HRC’s “Consultative Group” is a panel of five members, one from each of the five regional groups recognized by the United Nations. Saudi Arabia was put forward by the Asia group. The other four current members are the ambassadors from Algeria, Chile, Lithuania and Greece.

The Consultative Group’s tasks include interviewing and recommending candidates for dozens of posts of “special rapporteurs” or “independent experts,” each of whom have a specific mandate. The individuals’ work is viewed as pivotal to the U.N.’s human rights efforts.

Trad’s selection as chairman of the panel was first reported Sunday by U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the HRC. It said the action had occurred several months ago, “yet Geneva diplomats chose to keep silent and that initial election went unreported until now.”

U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer called on U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to reverse the Saudi ambassador’s appointment.

“It's scandalous that the U.N. chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel,” he said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.

“Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom and women’s rights, and continues to imprison the innocent blogger Raif Badawi,” Neuer said, adding that the move “underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members.”

(Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. Last January he received the first 50 lashes in a public flogging in front of a mosque in Jeddah – one day after the State Department urged the Saudis to cancel what it called “this brutal punishment.” Subsequent rounds of flogging have been postponed.)

Last May a Swiss newspaper, Tribune de Geneve, reported that Saudi Arabia was seeking the support of its regional group to be nominated for the rotating presidency of the HRC itself for 2016.

The news drew strong protests, and several weeks later the same French-language publication reported that the Saudis had withdrawn its bid to head the council.

Now, U.N. Watch suspects that Saudi Arabia may have been given the chair of the Consultative Group “in a backroom deal,” as a consolation for losing out on the HRC presidency.

“I urge Ambassador Power and High Commissioner Mogherini to confirm that this is not the case,” said Neuer.

A search of HRC documentation shows that since May, Saudi Arabia’s Trad has chaired at least a dozen meetings of the Consultative Group, at which scores of applicants were considered and interviewed for the posts of: “special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences,” “special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,” “special rapporteur on the right to privacy,” “special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights” and “independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.”

Meetings chaired by Trad also considered and interviewed candidates for working groups on arbitrary detention, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and people of African descent.

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