Belgian Coverage: U.N. elects Saudi Arabia to Women’s Rights Commission

April 19, 2017 – the UN Economic and Social Council issues press release announcing Saudi Arabia’s election to the Commission on the Status of Women.
April 22, 2017 – UN Watch publishes statement on its website condemning election of Saudi Arabia to Commission on the Status of Women: No Joke: UN Elects Saudi Arabia to Women’s Rights Commission.
In Belgium, the story broke on April 24, 2017 and is still generating headlines. Politicians on all sides were highly critical of the government’s apparent ‘yes’ vote, forcing a public apology from the Prime Minister.

  • La Libre, a widely circulated Belgian French daily, published the story quoting UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer: “petro-dollars make it possible to buy everything, even a political profit.”


  • Le Soir, Belgium’s other main French daily, also quoted Hillel Neuer in its story.


  • De Standaard, Belgium’s main Flemish daily accused the Belgian government of having voted to elect Saudi Arabia and quoted UN Watch’s statement that five European countries had to have voted for Saudi Arabia in order for it to get elected.


  • The Belgian news agency Belga, headlined its story: “Belgium has probably supported the accession of Saudi Arabia to the UN committee on the Rights of Women.”


  • Belgian politicians castigated the government. On April 26, 2017, Belgian MP Wouter de Vriendt asked a parliamentary question about Belgium’s vote and said: “A positive vote from Belgium is simply shocking.” Els Van Hoof of the Christian Democrats said that defending a ‘yes’ vote is equivalent to admitting a vote for the misogynistic regime. Yasmine Kherbache of the Socialist Party accused the government of legitimizing “a regime that violates women’s rights every day.”


  • On April 26, 2017, the government responds: Foreign Minister Didier Reynders issued a contradictory statement about the vote. He refused to confirm how Belgium voted, but justified the election of Saudi Arabia on multiple grounds. He said: “I strongly support multilateral meetings… including with countries with which we do not share the same opinions” and “Not entering into a debate with countries with which we do not agree within multilateral organizations involves a tremendous risk.”
    He also defended the decision on pragmatic grounds, suggesting that the election should have proceeded, as usual, without a vote in this type of situation where Saudi Arabia was running unopposed because “Western countries are far from holding a majority at the UN, and this may end up making it so that we are no longer elected to organizations of this type.”
    At the same time, he said that “Belgium is in no way pleased with the election of Saudi Arabia onto this commission.” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander de Croo did not disclose Belgium’s vote, but appeared surprised and said that he would not have voted in favor of Saudi Arabia.


  • On April 27, 2017, the government took a different tone. Prime Minister Charles Michel said he regretted the vote and that: “If we could do it again and if it was possible to proceed with a political assessment at the government level, I of course would have pleaded against a favorable vote.” He also reportedly called for the resignation of Foreign Minister Reynders over his handling of the matter. For his part, Foreign Minister Reynders said that he wants to change Belgium’s procedure for voting for candidates at the UN.

De Redactie: Reynders wil geen wapens meer naar Saudi-Arabië uitvoeren

Belgian Government, coalition partners and opposition parties regarding the notice Reynders had of the vote:

Green Party opposition meanwhile caught mails showing that Minister Reynders almost had a day to answer. It is now awaiting what explanation Reynders comes to the committee. According to various members of the opposition, the MR minister carries the political responsibility in this dossier. On Sunday, coalition partners CD & V understood that they believed that Reynders was “politically” unaware. If it turns out that’s not true, “there’s a problem,” said CD & V-member Els Van Hoof.

Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française (RTBF): Arabie Saoudite à l’ONU: Marcourt dénonce “l’écran de fumée de Didier Reynders
Belgian Government:

Heard in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber, Didier Reynders in his turn apologizes to those shocked by the Belgian vote in favor of Saudi Arabia for a place in the UN Committee on the Status of Women .
He reaffirmed once again that he was not personally aware and said he wanted to re-establish relations with Saudi Arabia, notably relaunching the debate on the arms embargo, a very sensitive issue in Wallonia . A manoeuvre described by Minister Marcourt as a “smoke screen”, because “Didier Reynders is in great difficulty”.

Asked about the issue, Prime Minister Charles Michel said ” regret the vote expressed on the Belgian side “, pretexting a lack of time on the side of diplomats to see what position to adopt.
Nevertheless, a letter tends to show that the Cabinet of Foreign Affairs was aware as well as that of Alexander De Croo. Reynders denies, saying that ” there is no contradiction between the Prime Minister and me.” He stressed that a negative vote by Belgium would not have changed much, but admitted that the procedure had to be changed.

The Prime Minister told the House that contacts were taking place between New York and the ” ministry “. And he spoke of the very short period of time in which he had to act, ” a few hours ” according to him, ” three hours “, according to Didier Reynders. However, the e-mails show that the decision was taken by Reynders, at least nine hours after the solicitation, taking into account the informal exchanges.

“Even if it finally turns out that Minister Reynders was not personally informed about the voting process, he must endorse the political responsibility of his cabinet”

La Libre: L’Arabie Saoudite élue à la Commission… des droits des femmes de l’ONU: “Un pyromane chef des pompiers”
Quoting UN Watch:

L’Arabie Saoudite a été élue à la Commission des droits des femmes de l’ONU. “C’est comme désigner un pyromane chef des pompiers de la ville”, commente Hillel Neuer, directeur exécutif de l’organisation UN Watch. La nomination de Riyad, régime salafiste qui fait partie des pays les plus misogynes au monde, au sein d’un organe de 45 pays censé s’investir dans “la promotion de l’égalité hommes-femmes et l’autonomisation des femmes” a de quoi surprendre.
Les Nations Unies envoient un signal selon lequel “les petro-dollars permettent de tout acheter, même un profit politique”, estime M. Neuer.

Knack: “Schande dat België instemde met Saudi-Arabië in VN-vrouwenrechtencommissie”

Belgian politician criticizes the vote: 

“A ‘yes’ vote from Belgium is simply shocking and punched in the stomach of anyone who fights for women’s rights,” says De Vriendt. Minister Reynders not dare to divest Saudi Arabia for the head and he legitimizes the country is an example of how not to worldwide violations of women Women are victims of systematic discrimination.. Not by car may ride, politics should play no role, not only movements and even decisions (financial, in terms of marriage, …) which are only taken by the man. “

De Standaard: Gêne om stem voor Saudi’s
Quoted UN Watch: 

Volgens de ngo UN-Watch zouden daar vijf Europese lidstaten bij geweest zijn. Het was de Belgische vertegenwoordiger bij de VN, ex-kabinetschef Marc Pecsteen, die de zaak ter plekke afhandelde.

Belgian Government:

“Our vote was then decided at the diplomatic level,” reports the Minister Reynders. “Belgium was indeed taken into speed,” confirms Van Hoof, “but we have to prepare ourselves better.”

Reynders himself meanwhile stressed the importance of dialogue, ‘how small the chances are that it seems to work. ” Even Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD), the news tried to put a positive spin. “I prefer to speak with people who have a different opinion, then they turn their backs and to be sure that nothing will improve for the women there.”

Peter De Roover (N-VA) hopes that Belgium has at least tried “to move the European countries collectively to a no vote. That the Saudis still sit on the committee, has major consequences for him. “As long as that country is in the Women’s Committee, the N-VA regards the commission as totally irrelevant. We will not accept any report of that body.”

Le Soir: C’est vous qui le dites sur le vote belge pour l’Arabie saoudite: «Bande d’irresponsables!»
Quoted UN Watch: 

L’Arabie saoudite a été élue en début de semaine à la Commission des droits des femmes de l’ONU. Une élection très critiquée. « C’est comme désigner un pyromane chef des pompiers de la ville », avait commenté Hillel Neuer, directeur exécutif de l’organisation United Nations Watch.

Belgian Prime Minister voices regret:

Faced with such controversy, Prime Minister Charles Michel said he regretted Belgium’s vote on the entry of Saudi Arabia into the UN Women’s Law Commission.
If the explanations of Charles Michel were relatively well perceived, the PS asks on the other hand ”  the eventual resignation  ” of Didier Reynders, Minister of the Foreign Affairs, if it were proved that he ”  lied  ” on the decision to vote in favor Of Saudi Arabia. The latter had, indeed, argued in committee not to have been aware of this vote. A statement that has difficulty to pass as well to the government as to the Belgians.

UN Watch