NEW YORK (Dispatches) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on UN member states to vote against a bid launched by Saudi Arabia to chair the body’s Human Rights Council, pointing to the country’s "massive rights violations” both at home and abroad.
The UN General Assembly is set to hold elections for 15 three-year terms on the 47-nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Tuesday, but HRW has warned that a lack of candidates running for seats may result in "problematic” countries winning spots by default.
"So far, only the Asia-Pacific regional group has a competitive slate, with five countries running for four seats. This means that the other candidate countries, even those not qualified, are virtually assured of seats on the UN’s top human rights body,” the group said in a statement.
While Saudi Arabia has announced cosmetic reform plans, it continues to target human rights defenders and dissidents, including women’s rights activists and others it has arbitrarily detained and prosecuted, the group warned.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at HRW, called the country "serial rights abusers” that "should not be rewarded with seats on the Human Rights Council”.
HRW also invoked a lack of accountability following Saudi Arabia’s murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the kingdom’s Turkish embassy in October 2018.
"Thirty-three countries at the current Human Rights Council session denounced Saudi rights violations and called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained. And the Saudi-led coalition continues to commit war crimes against civilians in Yemen,” the group said.
In 2018, two British human rights lawyers asked for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from the UNHRC over 61 people "arbitrarily detained or disappeared” by the kingdom’s authorities.
"Saudi Arabia has threatened to withdraw millions of dollars in UN funding to stay off the secretary-general’s annual ‘list of shame’ for violations against children,” HRW said.
The mandate that created the UNHRC urges states voting for members to "take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights”.
By mandate, council members are also required to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, something HRW warns, that Saudi Arabia has not lived up to.