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Saudi Arabia leads UN human rights panel: Nation’s history of rights violations causes controversy

Saudi Arabia, a nation with numerous human rights offenses, was recently named the chair of the United Nations human rights council. After a U.N. watchdog organization disclosed this, many people reacted negatively.

“Somebody at the U.N. has their head up their rear if they are willing to appoint the Saudi envoy to the U.N. to head up anything to do with human rights,” David Vila, professor of religion and philosophy at the University, said.

“To appoint one of the worst offenders of human rights in the world to be in charge of appointing experts and setting up human rights standards around the world legitimizes the horrific record of human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia,” Vila said. “And it also does not bode well for the development of global policies on human rights that have any substance if the standard is going to be Saudi Arabia.”

“It seems like a joke,” Haley Maguire, senior communication student, said. “I feel like a country leading a U.N. Council should look at its own country before telling others what to do.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council consultative group is made up of five rotating members who “interview and recommend candidates for dozens of experts, called ‘special rapporteurs’ or ‘independent experts’ whose job it is to examine specific human rights challenges and make non-binding recommendations to the human rights council,” explained an article from The Daily Beast.

In other words, Saudi Arabia—along with Lithuania, Chile, Algeria and Greece—recommends expert candidates to the president of the Human Rights Council. The president of the Council then interviews these candidates, and after getting appointed, the expert then addresses and analyzes a variety of human rights issues.

Much of the negative feedback over Saudi Arabia’s appointment to the consultative panel has to do with the perceived hypocrisy of the appointment, according to The Daily Beast. The kingdom has a long list of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, beheadings and poor treatment of women and religious minorities, according to Human Rights Watch.

A couple of the nation’s widely reported human rights controversies include a public beheading of a woman convicted of sexually abusing and murdering her 7-year-old stepdaughter. Saudi Arabia is also in the national spotlight after sentencing a blogger, Raif Badawi, to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for advocating free speech and insulting Islam.

Badawi, still in prison, was awarded the Pen Pinter Prize this week for advocating for free speech. The prize is awarded to those who show a “fierce intellectual determination… to define the real truth of our lives and our societies,” wrote the BBC. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales accepted the award on Badawi’s behalf, and Badawi’s wife continues to campaign for his release.

“It’s scandalous that the U.N. chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel,” Hillel Neuer, U.N. Watch executive director, said in a statement.

“This U.N. appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” Neuer said.

Despite widespread criticism, Saudi Arabia has pursued a seat at the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council for several months. The United States and other key nations were encouraged to protest Saudi Arabia’s appointment to the panel, but kept silent, likely because of the power of oil, according to U.N. Watch.