UN Watch Statement on Saudi Arabian Treatment of Women

Below is a statement that UN Watch intended to deliver today at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s session to adopt the periodic report on Saudi Arabia’s rights record, but was unable to due to the session’s time constraints and limited slots for NGO speeches.

UN Watch Statement on Saudi Arabian Treatment of Women

10 June 2009

Thank you, Mr. President.

The report before us makes important recommendations on practices that Saudi Arabia must end to conform to basic human rights standards.

We are deeply concerned, however, that Saudi Arabia has rejected these recommendations.

The world will ask:  Why is Saudi Arabia rejecting the recommendation that it sign on to the international treaty against discrimination of women, without any reservation? The Saudi reservation says that (quote) “In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention.”

In other words, Saudi Arabia-a country that was elected to this council on the solemn pledge that it would respect universal human rights-is now telling the world that universality is for men only.

Women victims of Saudi Arabia have begun to speak out.  They describe Saudi Arabia as a giant prison for women, where they are denied the right to vote; to drive a car; or to move freely without the written permission of a man. Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women can only be described as an institutionalized system of gender Apartheid.

And yet, Saudi Arabia and its many supporters in this council have a defense. Algeria, for example, tells us that Saudi Arabia is entitled to its (quote) “religious, social and cultural specificities.”

Mr. President, this debate matters. It matters for victims like the 19-year-old woman from Qatif, who was gang raped in 2007 – only to then be punished by the court with a sentence of 200 lashes.  Governments around the world seek to hide behind the claim of “cultural specificities,” but the victims say they want universal human rights.

Will the United Nations be on the side of the perpetrators, or the victims?  On the side of its founding principles, as found in the universal declaration, or on the side of those who deny them?

Thank you, Mr. President.

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