Today the U.N. General Assembly will elect five new members to the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body.
According to AP, all five candidates are virtually guaranteed to win a seat since there are no contested races. Among them is Saudi Arabia—a country renowned for its human rights abuses.
If elected, Saudi Arabia will serve a two-year term on the Council as one of 10 non-permanent members and alongside five permanent members with veto power.
Council members have the power to shape UN action on international peace and security, as well as on hot-button human rights and humanitarian issues, such as protection of civilians in wartime, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, international justice, and counter-terrorism and human rights.
Thus, Saudi Arabia’s voice would be heard on matters regarding sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the ICC arrest warrant against the Sudanese president for genocide in Darfur, and the U.N.’s global peacekeeping operations.
This begs the question: Does Saudi Arabia — with its deplorable human rights record — merit this position?
Based on the UN’s own criteria– absolutely not.
Article 23 of the UN Charter provides that “due regard” be “specially paid” to candidates who contribute not only to the maintenance of international peace and security but “to the other purposes of the Organization.”
These purposes, defined in Article 1, include “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
Saudi Arabia’s record for abusing those rights is well documented, most especially regarding its discriminatory treatment of women and intolerance of religious freedom.
According to a 2013 report by Freedom House, a watchdog organization that promotes global democracy, Saudi Arabia continues to rule a dogmatic, oppressive government. Among the report’s findings are the following systemic human rights abuses:
• Women’s Rights: “Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to vote in municipal elections, drive cars, or travel within or outside of the country without a male relative.”
• Freedom of Religion: “Islam is the official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims.”
• Freedom of Assembly: “The government frequently detains political activists who stage demonstrations or engage in other civic advocacy.”
• Freedom of Information: “The regime limits the influence of new media, blocking access to over 400,000 websites that are considered immoral or politically sensitive.”
• Academic Freedom: “Informers monitor classrooms for compliance with curriculum rules, such as a ban on teaching secular philosophy and religions other than Islam.”
Despite all of its gross abuses, Saudi Arabia is poised to win its first two-year term, adding it to the roster of other gross abusers who won election to the Security Council such as Assad’s Syria in 2002, and Qaddafi’s Libya in 2008.