The actions of the Saudi Arabian government would, in a country with less oil, bring international isolation. The news, therefore, that Saudi Arabia has been chosen to lead a UN Panel on Human Rights should bring the appropriate scrutiny on this tyrannical regime. Not only is the state an absolute monarchy, it is one that routinely denies the rights of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTIQ people. Their actions in the current conflict in Yemen further exacerbate tensions and act to undermine human rights.
As someone whose parents left South Africa during apartheid, in no small part because of apartheid and the sporting and cultural boycott, I know the power of international action on rogue states. The time has come to make Saudi Arabia the international pariah it deserves to be. The Saudi ambassador to the UN Faisal bin Hassan Trad, has been appointed to the Chair of an independent panel of experts to the Human Rights Council. To have the panel chaired by the ambassador of a country which recently advertised for 8 new executioners to accelerate their programme of judicial killings is shocking and wrong. According to Human Rights Watch there were 85 people executed up to the middle of May, compared to 88 in the whole of 2014.
Some of the antics of the Saudi government would be entertaining were they not so serious. Mr Trad has stated that Saudi Arabia will not tolerate criticism of its human rights record. Other actions are just sickening, like the man sentenced to three years in prison and 450 lashes for arranging to meet other men on twitter. He was lucky to avoid chemical castration or execution, both of which have previously been meted out to those convicted of offences related to homosexuality.
While it is clear that Saudi Arabia has strategic resources, most notably oil, this should not stand in the way of principled action for human rights. If we are to have any sway when it comes to the actions of other rogue states, we must apply the same rigorous criticism to Saudi Arabia as we do to countries like Iran, Cuba or Zimbabwe. Any government that chooses to imprison and flog a journalist like Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1000 lashes and nearly 10 years in prison clearly has no truck with free speech.
When Scotland refused to fly flags at half-mast following the death of King Abdullah in January it made clear that the rights of LGBTIQ people, women and minorities are important. We must go further to stigmatise the Saudi junta. We should avoid trade with Saudi – especially arms and equipment likely to be used for torture. We must be clear that until the rights of women, minorities and LGBTIQ people are respected, Saudi Arabia will be subject to sanctions. Until human rights are respected through an end to torture, executions and foreign intervention there should be no Saudi involvement in the UN human rights structures.
While Scotland refused to fly flags at half-mast, David Cameron and members of the British royal family sycophantically praised King Abdullah. This showed how seriously the office bearers in those institutions take human rights. At heart, the Saudi regime is totalitarian and must be internationally isolated. The deep irony of Saudi Arabia playing a significant role in the UN’s human rights bodies is as good a place to start as any. It’s time for a boycott of Saudi Arabia – until the country’s government takes serious action to protect the place of women and LGBTIQ people. We must also put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop their intervention in foreign conflicts. Having oil should be no insulation from international opprobrium.