April 15, 2024

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“Unfortunately not an April fool's joke”: Saudi Arabia embraces UN's empowerment of women

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United Nations“Unfortunately not an April fool's joke”: Saudi Arabia embraces UN's empowerment of women

Human rights groups have repeatedly leveled serious allegations of the Saudi Arabian government's treatment of women. The country is now a member of the UN. Chairperson of the Commission for the Advancement of Women.

  • Saudi Arabia has chaired the UN Commission on the Advancement of Women for one year.

  • The appointment drew international criticism.

  • The country is repeatedly accused of gross human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia will chair the UN Commission on the Advancement of Women in the future. The 45 member countries of the “United Nations Commission on the Status of Women” (CSW) appointed Saudi Ambassador Abdullahi Alwasil as the chairperson of the next session. The mandate lasts for one year.

Death penalty for women

Online reactions are often shocking: “Saudi Arabia elected president of Women's Rights Council. This is not an April Fool's joke. Unfortunately,” writes human rights activist Colombe Cahen-Salvador on X (formerly Twitter). Another user notes that women in Saudi Arabia are subject to the death penalty and that 31 women were executed between 2010 and 2021, saying, “A sensible decision.”

Human rights group Amnesty International was also shocked on Thursday. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy in which the royal family rules with an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. It ranks 132 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum Foundation (WEF) 2023 report on gender equality.

“A shock, but not a surprise”

“This is a shock, although not a surprise, to us,” said Nathalie Wenger, Amnesty Switzerland's director for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is running an image campaign with a lot of money to present itself as a modern country. “But these are gestures without substance.” Women's rights are constantly being violated there. Amnesty cited in a report the case of a mother of two who advocated for women's rights on the site X (formerly Twitter) during her doctoral research, and was therefore sentenced to 27 years in prison. UN Wenger said countries that accept such leaders in commissions should set an example. “That's why we see this presidency as sad.”

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In the commission meeting, the incumbent chairman from the Philippines nominated only the Saudi ambassador. “May I take it that the Commission wishes to elect His Excellency Abdulaziz Alwasil of Saudi Arabia as Chairman of the Commission at its 69th session?” he asked the 45 member states. “I have no objection. So it has been decided,” he said. The decision was met with short applause.

There was no objection from the “Western Europe and other countries” group either. The group is currently represented by Austria, Israel, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

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(dpa/bho)