Debbie Hall

Open Letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon

On March 7, 2015, a Saudi official issued a statement via the Saudi News Agency.  It has been translated, in part, as follows:

Saudi Arabia expresses its strong surprise and dismay of what is being said in some of the media on the issue of citizen/Raif Mohammed Badawi and the verdict against him. And while the Kingdom regrets these media outlets’ attacks against the Kingdom and its Judiciary, it emphasizes at the same time that it does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs, and rejects the encroachment on its sovereign right or the compromising of its judiciary independence and integrity, where there is no power over the judges in their rulings. The Kingdom also stresses that all court cases are handled without distinction or exception.’  The source also added that, ‘the Kingdom does not accept at all any attack on her in the name of human rights, especially when its constitution is based on Islamic law, which guarantees the rights of human and preserved his blood, money, honour and dignity.’”  (Translation of Saudi Statement from retrieved on March 7, 2015.)

For those unfamiliar with the case of Raif Badawi, he is a political prisoner incarcerated in Saudi Arabia for having a liberal blog.  He was promoting free thought, liberalism and secularism in a blog called “Free Saudi Liberals.” His posts were never disparaging of Islam itself or the Prophet Mohammed but as his blog gained popularity, Raif was arrested and charged with several crimes, one of which is a charge of “promoting liberalism.” He is currently serving a 10-year sentence and has been given 50 of the 1,000 lashes that were also part of his sentence.  He is in poor health and there is a threat now of adding the charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  Raif has already appealed this case once and the result of that appeal was a sentence increase from seven years to ten years and more lashes. For some reason, when people appeal their convictions in Saudi Arabia, the original sentence issued can be increased by the appellate judge, as in the case of a woman who is serving a 6-month sentence for being in public unaccompanied by a male family member, which the court claims resulted in her being the victim of a gang rape.  Additionally, the attorney who was representing Raif was disbarred and put in jail for representing Raif, and the rape victim’s attorney was also stripped of his license.

Saudi Arabia is a member-state currently seated on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The duties of member states of the UNHRC are outlined in resolution 60/251, drafted in 2006.  Those duties include:

“Reaffirming that, while the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, have the duty to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, Emphasizing the responsibilities of all States, in conformity with the Charter, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (OHCHR Resolution 60/251 establishing the UNHRC retrieved March 7, 2015.)

Saudi Arabia is a country that has imprisoned one man for having a liberal blog and one woman for being a victim of gang raped, in addition to many other prisoners of conscience and circumstance.  Yet, amazingly, this nation has been given the honor of sitting on the UNHRC and tasked with judging other countries on their human rights records.  The behavior of the Saudi government in both of these cases is in direct violation of UN Resolution 60/251.  This resolution, however, also has a remedy should a member-state violate its duties, as outlined in Section 8, which states:

“…the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

In this regard, I, along with the members of my community and circles of influence, appeal to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to put the removal of Saudi Arabia from the UNHRC to a vote of the UN General Assembly as quickly as possible.

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.
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