Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and human rights

This video is called Warning: Gross human rights violations against Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia, November 2013.

By Jeremy Corbyn in Britain:

Keeping oppression in plain view

Friday 19th September 2014

The Universal Periodic Reviews by the UN human rights council in Geneva secure a voice for those most likely to be silenced, writes Jeremy Corbyn

There was a strange moment at the UN human rights council in Geneva this week. A young woman on behalf of a duly registered civil society group was invited to deliver her two-minute submission to the assembled council and civil society groups.

Barely 30 seconds in an objection was raised from Saudi Arabia’s ambassador — was she properly qualified to speak? The president of the session overruled the objection and confirmed her credentials were in order.

She restarted and another interruption followed and this time the ambassador asked if the UN human rights council could discuss an individual case of someone in prison in Saudi Arabia.

Yes, came the president’s answer — it was within the purview of the council to do this.

Our brave delegate ploughed on, describing prison conditions and the plight of the convicted and a loud banging interrupted her as a Saudi diplomat tried to encourage his ambassador to voice another objection, this time asking if it was possible for the council to discuss a case that the courts had already dealt with?

Again the president overruled the ambassador and the young woman, shaken by the experience, completed her submission.

Since its establishment the UN human rights council — the successor body, the human rights commission — has undertaken Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of each member state.

The process involves an examination by other states, a series of recommendations, debate on their applicability and then a process of monitoring until the next review.

In last March’s session of the council Saudi Arabia was castigated for lack of freedom of expression and the harassment and jailing of human rights activists, “based solely on their peaceful practice of basic rights, particularly the right of free expression, including Mohammed al-Qatani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Bajadi, Abd al-Kareem, al-Kohdr, Omar al-Saeed and Raif Badawi,” reported Human Rights Watch.

In early February new anti-terror laws were enacted which increased yet further the powers of the police.

Religious worship is restricted to one form of Islam and, for example, Shi’te mosques are not allowed.

About 250,000 foreign workers have been expelled, among them 12,000 Somalis who were deported to the worst conflict zones of their country. Nobody was allowed to claim refugee status.

Saudi Arabia is also under fire for the lack of any basic rights for women. Male guardianship is still the order of the day despite widespread condemnation and a vague promise that it would be phased out.

Even Britain recorded its concern at the lack of progress on human rights in Saudi Arabia, as did some of the US comments.

The significance of the bad-tempered outburst by the ambassador was that the delegate was speaking on behalf of Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain, a country which has very close links with Saudi Arabia.

This video is called Husain Abdulla, Bahrain Human Rights (pt 1 of 2).

And this video is the sequel.

Most western countries are muted in their concerns. The reason is not complicated — Saudi Arabia is the biggest arms buyer, has the biggest oil reserves in the world and has large investments in Britain.

A well-attended seminar on Bahrain was organised at the council, which detailed the way protestors have been shot, others jailed and even doctors treating the wounded have been put on trial.

Bahrain imports most of its crowd control and anti-personnel equipment from Britain.

The Bahrain Forum for Human Rights has made six demands including a halt to the supply of equipment, transparent investigations and allowing the UN special rapporteur to visit.

Geneva provides a great opportunity for human rights groups from around the world to catalogue and raise concerns on behalf of individuals, groups and communities. The UPR process is meant to provide a way to improve human rights.

In some cases it does make a very big difference and there are people and groups who have been protected by word of their plight becoming more widely known.

The problem, as ever, is the power of arms sales and mineral rights to fetter the volume of criticism. The close western relationship with Saudi Arabia and its huge arms purchases leaves many victims very vulnerable.

This week the council also spent a day on indigenous peoples’ rights — their exposure to climate change and added vulnerability in the case of disasters.

An excellent presentation by the commission on indigenous people showed graphically the loss of land and ecosystems through mining and the inability of states to protect indigenous people during natural or human-made disasters.

Again, graphically laid out is the imbalance of power. Mining companies sucking minerals and wealth out of the poorest countries and riding roughshod over the peoples of the areas and the protocols that require informed consent before operations can begin, and claiming that the people actually benefit.

It was refreshing when the government of Bolivia talked of its philosophy of sustainability and the rights of all people to lead a sustainable existence.

Human rights, much lauded at many times by countries and people who routinely abuse them, are not just about individuals.

Of course the right of an individual to a free and fair trial, access to justice and free expression are crucial. Also crucial is the right of peoples to live free from pollution, loss of their environments and to have control over their own destinies.

Essentially this flies in the face of the trajectory of arms sales, the behaviour of oil and mining companies and the unaccountable power of the biggest corporations.

For all its limitations and weaknesses the human rights council does provide a forum to speak truth unto power, as our brave young woman showed in addressing the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North and chair of Liberation, on whose behalf he attended the human rights council in Geneva.

Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia publicly flogged liberal blogger and activist: here.

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