(CNSNews.com) – Saudi Arabia, stung by Western nations’ criticism of its human rights record, hit back this week by accusing them of anti-Muslim “radicalism,” and suggested that the Australian government was a sympathizer of the Australian accused in the Christchurch mosque shooting.
The incendiary accusation was leveled at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, as Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil reacted to an earlier statement, presented by Australia on behalf of 24 democracies.
Saudi Arabia is one of 14 countries on the 47-member HRC that is graded “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, an annual assessment based on scores for political rights and civil liberties..
The Australia-led statement acknowledged some reforms were underway in the Sunni kingdom, but raised concerns about the “persecution and intimidation” of civil society actors including women’s rights activists, citing reports of “torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, and harassment.”
It also called for accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi writer was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October, and a U.N. special human rights investigator said in a report in June there was “credible evidence” implicating senior officials, including crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the killing.
The statement was read by Australian ambassador Sally Mansfield during Monday’s HRC session. On Tuesday, Alwasil took the opportunity to reply.
“Racist and extremist policies” directed at Muslims, minorities and migrants, the Saudi representative said, had unfortunately “become popular and even accepted by some western parliaments – they are even sponsored by certain governments.”
“We see, in some countries, radicalism against Muslims. We see xenophobia, racism, and some governments sympathize with them – like Australia,” Alwasil said.
“Here we refer to the massacre perpetrated by Brenton Tarrant in Australia [sic], which was based on hate speech.”
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is on trial for the murder of 51 people and the attempted murder of 40 more, following the March 15 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Alwasil also said the statement read out by Australia contained “many mistakes and misleading information” about the kingdom where, he said, reforms were underway, “especially with regards to the rights of women.”
“We also have a solid judiciary that looks into all cases in accordance with shari’a and the legal system of the kingdom,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia rejects “interference” in its internal affairs.
After his remarks about Australia and the accused Christchurch shooter, Alwasil concluded by saying it was time for the HRC to “review” a resolution adopted by it in 2011, formally entitled “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.”
Alwasil said Saudi Arabia called on all countries, especially HRC members, to make more effort towards realizing the resolution’s goal.
The 2011 resolution (known as resolution 16/18) was the outcome of a bid, led by the Obama administration, to break a decade-long stalemate at the U.N. between mostly Western democracies and Islamic states and their allies.
The deadlock had seen the Islamic bloc promote an annual U.N. resolution calling for the “defamation of religion” to be outlawed, and democracies opposed the move on free speech grounds.
Resolution 16/18 was an attempt to bridge the divide.
It expressed concern about “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief” and urged governments to adopt “measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.”
The text gave both sides the opportunity to declare progress, with democracies hailing its affirmation of “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” and the absence of the loaded term “religious defamation,” while Islamic states stressed elements dealing with religious stereotyping and incitement.
The countries backing the statement read out by Australia were Canada, New Zealand, Peru, and 20 countries in Europe – Belgium, Britain, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.