Those who oppose Saudi Arabia’s appointment Â to theÂ United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)Â are shortsighted.
Giving Saudi Arabia a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was a stroke of genius by the world body to allow Saudis to participate in helping shape the future on how governments treat their citizens.–Â Reforming and learning from within
Saudis are well aware of the undue criticism our country endured last month over human rights. But the criticism alone is not enough to deny Saudi Arabia a seat at the council. As US President Barack Obama pointed out a few years ago, developing countries must “work from within to reform it.”
Here’s a good example how this sensitivity is taught:
The United Nations is worthy of the contempt displayed by the Arab and Muslim communities for its weak-kneed handling of the Syrian crisis, it’s inability to stem the tide of violence against Christians in Egypt and Palestinians by Israelis, and its unforgivable silence on the plight of oppressed Muslims in Myanmar. Just as Saudi Arabia was right to reject a seat at the UN Security Council because of the flagrant disregard by the United States and Russia to deal with Syria, it was right to accept the UNHRC seat because it can be more effective.
The Security Council with its five permanent members â€” the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China â€” wielding veto power in effect paralyzes the council from any meaningful contributions toward peace in the Middle East. There could be no role for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a better chance of becoming a meaningful contributor on a global scale by learning how to deal with human rights violations on the council in which no country has veto power.
It is not unexpected that human rights groups oppose Saudi Arabia’s appointment, but it is shortsighted.
Europe is witnessing an alarming rise in right-wing xenophobic political parties with an anti-immigrant agenda in the name of cultural unity. France banned the hijab from its public school system in 2004 and the niqab from public places in 2010. Muslims account for 7 percent of the Muslim population. Yet France’s bans on religious and cultural clothing marginalizes, not unifies, French Muslims as they go deeper underground to avoid harassment from authorities.
In French-speaking Quebec, Canada, a proposed charter would ban government employees from wearing hijabs, Sikh turbans, large crucifixes and other religious symbols in the workplace. However, in an obvious insult to the minority non-Christian citizens of Quebec, the proposed law would allow the crucifix adorning Quebec’s National Assembly wall to remain.
The rise of the anti-immigrant National Front in France, the British National Party and English Defense League in the United Kingdom and the surging popularity of the anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders demonstrate the need to bring more levelheaded voices to government.
Saudi Arabia’s presence on the Human Rights Council will not “warp the basic definition of human rights” as some critics alleged. How can it when it is only one of 47 members? But our country can help Western members of the council understand and define what blasphemy is and how a balance between free speech and sensitivity to other religions and cultures can be achieved. It can also help counter the alarmist nature of anti-immigrant groups.
A casual look at YouTube videos of Saudis beating their workers is evidence enough that we have a long road to hoe. Yet the United States, the United Kingdom and France among other Western nations can no longer claim the high road in our post-Iraq invasion world. And the selective nature of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to condemn some countries but not others pretty much puts all members of the UN Human Rights Council on equal footing.