Saudi leads UN Human Rights Council: How the kingdom traded votes with the UK

Published October 7th, 2015 - 03:08 GMT
A WikiLeaks document showed the UK helped secure Saudi Arabia's membership on the UN human rights committee. (AFP/File)
A WikiLeaks document showed the UK helped secure Saudi Arabia's membership on the UN human rights committee. (AFP/File)

Last month's announcement of Saudi Arabia's chairing the UN Human Rights Council baffled many — as the international community continues to battle the kingdom's sexism, rising number of executions and violations on press freedom.

Turns out an under-the-table deal helped secure the Saudi membership in the committee, eventually leading to its chairmanship. A WikiLeaks document showed the UK and Saudi Arabia had made an agreement to support each other in the votes, according to several media reports. 

Here's a translation from the cables, dated January and February 2013: 

The delegation is honored to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.

The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond didn't deny the claim when asked about it in The Australian. And the UK didn't help its case when earlier this week, the foreign office was quoted as saying human rights was no longer a "top priority."

Then there's the money. The Guardian reported Saudi Arabia had transferred $100,000 to campaign for the membership, though it's unclear from WikiLeaks what they spent the money on. According to UN Watch, the kingdom also pledged $1 million to the UNHRC to influence the committee before winning its membership in November 2013. 

By Hayat Norimine


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