Norwegian 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 Norway, the story was published extensively in the media between April 24 and 26, 2017 and the issue led to a heated debate between parliamentarians and the government:

  • Aftenposten, Norway’s largest printed newspaper, published a major story quoting UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer: “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”
  • NRK, Norway’s largest media organization also quoted Hillel Neuer extensively: “Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice.” In addition NRK radio broadcast a segment on the story, interviewing Hillel Neuer along with Norwegian parliamentarians and government officials.
  • Norway’s edition of The Local, a source for English language digital news in countries across Europe, quoted UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer extensively: “why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading oppressor of women to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women?”
  •, another online Norwegian English language publication noted: “The issue brought rare agreement between SV on the far left of Norwegian politics and the progress party on the far right.”
  • On April 26, 2017, members of Norway’s parliament on both sides, including Liberal leader Trine Skei Grande, Christian Democrat Knut Arild Hareide and Socialist Left party leader Audun Lysbakken, demanded to know how Norway voted. They raised the issue in parliament. Grande said: “I think it is important to be open about how Norway votes internationally. This is an alarming enough result for there to be good reason to make [the Norwegian vote] public.” Hareide said: “We probably can’t stop them from being voted in, but Norway should not have supported it and we ought to be clear about what we have done.”
  • On April 26, 2017, the government responded: “Norway won’t make public how we vote in secret UN elections,” said Foreign Minister Børge Brende; “Voting in connection with UN candidatures within the UN is not public,” said Frode O. Andersen, Foreign Ministry Head of Communications.

Norsk Rikskringkasting: Reality Distant about Saudi Arabia
Op-Ed by Saudi Ambassador to Norway, Esam Abid Al Thagafi
Translation of article courtesy of UN Watch, the original can be found here

It may seem incomprehensible that the West tries to demand something that most people in Saudi Arabia do not want. Why should you fight for the rights of others in another country with a different culture and religion? It is not Norway’s problem that Saudi women cannot drive a car.

Social problems will occur if women are allowed to drive or to be completely independent.

There is no country in the world where women are not discriminated against because of their gender. According to a World Bank study, violence against women between ages 15 to 44 represents a global health threat in line with diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

Aftenposten: Svensk UD: Ingen stemte nei da Saudi-Arabia fikk plass i FNs kvinnekommisjon
Referring to the news that Sweden’s FM Wallström had claimed the only two options in a vote are for or abstaining:

Wallströms ministry also claims that it is not possible to vote no in this type of voting at the UN. One can only vote yes or refrain from voting, says press spokesman Erik Wirkensjö news agency TT.
The idea that it is not possible to vote no has been rejected by the political scientist Thord Janson at the University of Gothenburg. But he confirms that it is very unusual.
The regions of the United Nations – in this case Asia – suggest which countries in the region that should join various organs. Then countries from other regions tend to respect the election.
You can vote no, but it is only countries like Iran and North Korea who do such things, says Wirkensjö.

In Norway:

Foreign Minister Børge Brende (H) was in a parliamentary question on 26 April confronted with the question of what Norway voiced when the case was heard at the UN.
The government follows the same practice as the previous governments by not disclose how to vote by secret ballot, he replied.
This has been an established international practice that has been followed by various governments in Norway, elaborated Foreign Minister.

Afterposten: SV og Frp ber Brende svare på om Norge stemte Saudi-Arabia inn i FNs kvinnekommisjon
Quotes from Norwegian politician:

“I think it’s obvious that MFA must disclose that fact, and I have noted that SV mean the same thing, says deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in parliament,” Christian Tybring- Pike (FRP).
He calls Saudi’s accession to the committee “a travesty.”
– Here are fighting one for equality both in Europe and elsewhere, also fail to promote Saudi’s candidacy for this. No one can say that Saudi Arabia has something to contribute when it comes to promoting gender equality, says Tybring- Pike.

Afterposten: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Aftenposten: – Islam overrides human rights
Interview with Saudi Ambassador to Norway Esam Abid Al Thagafi. Italics represent questions from the interviewer:

It is very difficult to compare human rights in Saudi Arabia with the way these works here in the West. It’s about culture. We would like to say to our Norwegian friends that we respect their opinions. But you must also respect our opinions and ideas.

But you have signed the United Nations Charter. Global human rights is part of the foundation of the UN. Does not that mean you have the same obligations as other countries?
– Of course, we have the same obligations. But while there are some paragraphs we do not agree.
What clauses is it?
– We are opposed to the clauses that are contrary to Islamic rules.
Does it mean that Islamic laws are superior to human rights?
– Not exactly, but there are Islamic rules we have to follow. For example, the death penalty one of the pillars of Islam. We practice it in Saudi Arabia, and it will continue to do.

One of the things you wrote, as many reacted to was that Saudi women are spoiled. Would you explain what you meant?
– Women do not contribute to the family economy, they can spend all the money they earn for themselves. They have no duties, and they have drivers who can drive them wherever they want. They are not trapped but can move freely.

You also write that a majority of Saudi women are happy and do not want change. How do you know that?
– We live with them, we live with them!
But have you researched this? Or is it something you just guess?
– Women writing in newspapers and participate in the public dialogue. They express their views freely, so it’s not hard to get an idea of ​​what they mean.

UN Watch