Saudia Arabia, The new UN Custodian of the Human Rights?

copyright CC CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES

Saudi Arabia has been appointed as the head of a United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel. No, it is not a joke, even though in normal cases, the words “Saudi Arabia” and “human rights” in the same sentence are a hint to yet another break of fundamental human rights in the Arabic country. Not surprisingly, this decision has been labelled as the “final nail in the coffin for the credibility of the UNHRC”. Just as a quick reminder, 87 people had been put to death in Saudi Arabia alone in 2014. This number is going to be topped this year, as we are already heading towards 100 executions (Amnesty International report these figures are much higher).

Human rights violations in Saudi Arabia commits (and the list is long) include torture, executions, religious persecution, violation of rights related to gender equality and information rights. These fundamental rights are violated; let alone modern concepts as freedom of speech, right to assembly association or due process of the law.

Nowadays, the aggression against Yemen is probably the best proof of the Arabic arrogance and disrespect of the International rules. In fact, Saudi Arabia has intervened in the domestic civil war, disregarding the principle of self- determination. Local Yemeni forces, loyal to the former president Saleh, were contesting the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. The civil war is one of the numerous outcomes of the Arab spring in the region and Saudi Arabia has definitely no right of intervention in Yemen’s internal affairs. According to the media reports, there are ten million people in the need of food, water and medical assistance. Nearly 1000 children have died. The situation is desperate.

Nevertheless, the country will now play quite an important role in the UNHRC. The panel it will lead is responsible, among other tasks, for interviewing and selecting experts who examine the human rights records of countries. To be honest, Saudi Arabia is most probably one of the least qualified countries to assume this role.

As said, this decision is but another threat to the UN´s credibility, but most probably the roots of wrong decisions are to be looked for in the structure, principles and processes of the institution.

As a basic principle, for instance, all members of the UN should be equal (this is why each state has got one vote, regardless of anything): “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”, this is stated by art. 2 of the UN Charter.

However, there are countries which are “more equal” than others, apparently: “Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters (not procedural ones) shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; …”, UN Charter, art. 27, par. 3. This means that the permanent members (United Kingdom, United States of America, France, People´s Republic of China, Russian Federation) can block any decision of the institution. The UN has been founded in 1945, immediately after WWII, in order to “maintain international peace and security” (superfluous to remind that this aim has not been reached). The UN is now 70 years old and it has never been able to modernize itself in order to reflect the new situation of the geopolitical relations. If the veto- right had been kept only for the first years in order to grant to the then biggest actors of the international politics the power of making relevant decisions, it would have been understandable, but today it is not justifiable anymore.

Uncountable are the times the UN has interfered in internal situations, which were not international issues and may times UN has closed their eyes in front of genocides and continuous disregard of the humanitarian law.

These examples are made just and only in order to back the statement that the UN´s decision processes and organizational structure are spoiled and however the decision of appointing Saudi Arabia as head of the UNHRC´s panel cannot be a transparent one.

It is a shame to have a country which has such a poor human rights record to be the custodian of United Nations Human Rights Panel. If you want to try to change something, please sign and share this petition to urge United Nations to remove Saudia Arabia from the position it does not deserve.

Sign a petition here: Remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Council on Human Rights

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Sharing Voices – Part II

Interviews about rights of women in Egypt – Hopes and Aspirations

Nadia

Nadia Siraj – Interviewee

Following the previous post about Maryam few weeks ago here is my II part of the series. 

Nadia Siraj (44, Cairo) was born in Saudi Arabia. She has lived half of her life in Saudi Arabia and half in Egypt. She has worked as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expert for corporations such as the National Commercial Bank in Jada, Microsoft, British Consulate or Islamic Development Bank as well as in the Social Field in several countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Dubai. At some point, she decided to leave corporate and focus more on Meditation and Energy, which had always been her passion. She believes in the importance of empowering people regardless of any condition, thereby making people being themselves. Nadia loves self-expression through body (dancing and music). She is co-founder of a centre that promotes meditation through dancing in order to make people to find their own serenity.

Maryam and Nadia stories make you clearly see some aspects that negatively affect women. In their opinion, the increasing influence of wrong religious interpretations, tradition and even Capitalism (‘is the other extreme of treating a woman like an object and making her feel she is unworthy without having certain looks, buying certain products, etc.’) make women to be more exposed to harassment, to be forced to wear veil, to get married at certain age or being restricted of choices and submissive on relationships. This process has especially been strengthen since late 70’s, ‘when wahabi culture started being imported to Egypt’.

Nevertheless, Maryam and Nadia believe ‘women are awaking’. Women are becoming conscious about their situation. Rather, as Nadia notices, there is raising ‘a strong reaction reflected by feminism movements’, although, in her opinion, another positive respond to fight for equality could have been developed instead of a movement based on ‘frustration and opposition’.

Since the fall of Mubarak’s regime (February 2011), Nadia believes that the ‘revolution’ worked for something and the fall of Mubarak’s regime ‘broke something old’ so it triggered a process ‘in which people realize that there are other options in life’.

On the other hand Nadia  considers that ‘ her divorce was one of the big turning points in her life because she realized that all people, who interfered in her life and were so keen on finding ways to control her. They are not there anymore or they are only there when it requires control. She said, she started questioning many of the values and beliefs in which she had been raised and then she disregarded many of them without being reactive, because being reactive will make things worse’. She is instilling it to her son and her parents start ‘to see things differently when it comes to raising girls different from boys and controlling them more than boys. ‘It’s a learning process for all of us we are breaking cycles of unnecessary controlling and being controlled’ she said.

Nadia highlights her younger period in Saudi Arabia, where it was very difficult for a woman to have a job. More recently, she remembers the harsh period she spent because of her son’s custody: ‘I have suffered dealing with separation, and the law stands always on the side of the man more than a woman’ For Nadia it was even difficult to being with being divorced with a son.

Hence, when I asked Nadia about the role of men in women’s situation, she said: ‘there were successful women who were supported by their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, etc. I was lucky to be one of them in certain aspects of my life where my father was there to give me support. Nevertheless, it is not the case anymore because there is much competition and people are so busy with their own stories so a lot of women have to empower themselves by finding their ways’.

Talking about younger women Maryam and Nadia agree on the fact that there is a certain polarity or contrast, but at different levels. Nadia observed that new generations face ‘resistance from the elders, who cannot accept that the whole area of security (everything that they believe in and keeps them alive) is being shacked. They don’t want that. They want to hold on to what they know and believe, so the younger generations are challenging the older ones and only those of them (the young ones) who get stuck in the ego and self-victimization are not able to move on and adopt change’.

Thus, looking at the future like Maryam, Nadia has a lot of hope. She sees ‘more respect from young men and they are more in touch with their feminine side; whereas many women are standing for themselves, for their rights and being more confident’. However, she points out the way Middle East societies are viewed, especially from Western countries. First, ‘they are always focused on books and conferences. It is always focused on driving, entrepreneurs, etc. and it is not focused more on based wise on women’s need. Whatever they look at, it is more in favour of consumerism at the end; so entities that promote independence in these aspects make women independent only financially, thereby making more consumers as equal as men’. Thus, she doesn’t see this independence ‘as a genuine step in really being concern on women’. Secondly, she saw many women from different countries (Dubai, Morocco, UK, Iran, Turkey, US) who had their own issues. They ‘are not equally treated as men, not equally paid as men, emotionally or physically abused by men’. Hence, she doesn’t like the idea of ‘spotlighting Middle East as an area where women are oppressed and it doesn’t happen anywhere else’.

She told me that ‘it is happening everywhere in different ways’.

Javier Javier Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania. Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania.

 

The rape of Nepalese maids and the Saudi ‘Criminal Diplomat’

The recent reports of two Nepalese maids, raped and illegally confined by Saudi Arabian Diplomat Majed Hassan Ashoor, clamour for justice and protection of migrant workers in India that are often subject to abuse and fraud.

The plight of Nepalese Migrant Workers

Punctuated with debilitating economy, millions of Nepalese travel to neighbouring countries like India, which has unrestricted entry for Nepalese nationals. In a bid to support their families, many unfortunate workers are often duped by human traffickers and land in unwanted circumstances. The dream selling of so-called unscrupulous agents begin to haunt these migrant workers that are stranded on the streets in a foreign country with nowhere to go while they often become ‘victims’ of violence and fraud. According to Nepalese Official data on average around two migrant workers die abroad each day with death toll topping 240 between January to April in 2014 alone.

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In the newly discovered case of abuse of migrant workers, two Nepalese women were held at the luxurious residence of Saudi diplomat Majed Hassan Ashoor in the city of Gurgaon near New Delhi for several months until a non-governmental organisation flagged the issue and filed a complaint against alleged rape and confinement. The police rescued the women from the residence and they were sent back to Nepal later. Meanwhile, the diplomat also left India with his family flying the flag of Saudi Arabia, I presume.

A case of diplomatic inviolability?

Why was diplomat not arrested against the crime which challenge women across the world and in India in particular where rape unfortunately occurs so very often? According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Article 41, the consular in the receiving State enjoys various perks and privileges as stated in the convention and the Article 41.1: ‘Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trail, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by competent judicial authority.’

Without doubt rape is a ‘grave crime’ which hurts women physically, mentally, socially, culturally and subsequently also economically. Therefore, it is necessary to protect and safeguard women in vulnerable conditions such as these Nepalese women who left their homes and families for a ‘better’ life in India. Being a foreigner in a hostile atmosphere even further puts you at the fringes of vulnerability.

The Nepalese Ambassador in New Delhi, Deep Upadhyay told reporters that the case should be pursued even if the diplomat had left the country. ‘The victims must get justice’ said Mr Upadhyay.

What churns my stomach most is the silence and denial of Saudi government against the case in question. The sudden ‘exit’ of its criminal diplomat coupled with Saudi government claim about the case being ‘baseless’ reeks of underhand ‘deal’ between Saudi Arabia and India which was also echoed by former Indian Secretary Maharaj Krishna who dubbed the departure of criminal diplomat as ‘solution arrived at through mutual consultation’.

 The victims must get justice

Diplomats are ambassadors of a state, a well sought after public service, they are an embodiment of trust, respect and honour in any receiving country. However, for the case in point, beyond the veneer of International convention and diplomatic inviolability lies the pernicious abuse of power and lust, preying at the weak and drawn out existences of these women who for better lives, left their country to feed and support their families back home. Unknown to the future perils in the foreign land, they among others are often hoodwinked, abused, confined, assaulted and often murdered by those who in their big cars flying the flag of their state kill them – like flies in the hands of wanton boys.

A rape is a rape is a rape is a rape! The dignity of women should be protected and the criminal should be prosecuted by the law of the land. The Saudi Government must take a stand and prosecute its criminal beyond the state politics since everyone should be equal before law regardless of a rank or hierarchy.  Equally India as a host nation must act responsibly and protect the rights of the migrant workers who help spin the economic wheel of their country and must provide them a safer atmosphere in a much needed dignified way.

Shahid Khan is the viceShahidkhan-chairperson of Global Minorities Allliance http://www.globalminorities.co.uk. He can be reached on twitter @shahidshabaz