The State Department has welcomed news that Saudi Arabia will head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel. Criticism has regularly been levelled at Saudi Arabia by human rights groups due to perennial human rights violations.
Saudi Arabia beheaded over 100 people this year through June. That’s already more than they beheaded in the entirety of 2014. The regime there is also known for its use of floggings and implementation of the death penalty against people convicted as minors. A group of U.N. experts called on Saudi Arabia as recently as this week to spare the nephew of a prominent Shia cleric from beheading and crucifixion. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is regularly the target of international rights groups’ critiques due to their complete disregard for international human rights standards on free speech, freedom of religion, and a plethora of other violations.
“Saudi Arabia … systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, notably Twelver Shia and Ismailis,” a Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2015 report on Saudi Arabia reads. This development has been widely denounced by figures who see the appointment as a way for Saudi Arabia to justify their current practices.
“[The appointment] is like a green light to start flogging Raif Badawi again!” Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Badawi said according to AJ+. Badawi, who helped found an internet discussion channel to discuss religion and politics, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes earlier this year for insulting Islam. Rights groups have rallied to Badawi’s defense but Saudi Arabia has still given him at least 50 lashes to date.
Another case of criminal punishment has caught the world’s attention as of late and this case has come to light almost synonymously with the appointment of Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, to the human rights panel.
Ali-al Nimr, now 21, was arrested at 17-years-old for participating in a protest calling for social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif province. The area is largely inhabited by Shia Muslims, a minority that faces harsher penalties and less rights than the Sunni majority.
After his arrest, Nimr was convicted of belonging to a terror cell, attacking police with Molotov cocktails, incitement, and stoking sectarianism, CNN reported.
“Mr. al-Nimr did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer was not allowed to properly assist him and was prevented from accessing the case file,” independent experts told the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a recent interview, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner seemed to mangle his words when asked about Nirm’s case.
“I’m not aware of the trial that you — or the verdict — death sentence,” Toner told AP’s Matt Lee. Toner followed up by saying that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share close ties and maintain an active dialogue and that he hoped their involvement on the Human Rights Council panel would help encourage introspection.
Two other minors, also arrested in 2012 at the Qatif protests have also been sentenced to death and are at risk of imminent execution.
“It is scandalous,” U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, told CNN. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights.”