(CNSNews.com) – After campaign- ing for its first ever seat on the U.N. Security Council and winning it in an election Thursday, Saudi Arabia in an astonishing move Friday said it would not take up the position.
In a statement published by the official SPA news agency the foreign ministry said while the kingdom was grateful for having won a two-year term on the council beginning on January 1 it had decided not to join.
It said the council’s mechanisms and “double standards” meant it was incapable of preserving international peace and security, citing failure to resolve the Palestinian issue after 65 years; failure to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the region; and “allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands idly [by].”
“Accordingly, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, based on its historical responsibilities towards its people, Arab and Islamic nations as well as towards the peoples aspiring for peace and stability all over the world, announces its apology for not accepting membership of the Security Council until the council is reformed and enabled, effectively and practically, to carry out its duties and responsibilities in maintaining international peace and security.”
Friday’s statement contrasted with comments made by Saudi ambassador to the U.N. Abdallah al-Mouallimi after Thursday’s election in New York. Then he described the vote as “a defining moment in the kingdom’s history.”
“As one of the first founding members of the United Nations, our election is much to rejoice over,” he said. “We welcome the positive shift as well as challenges of being part of the Security Council body.”
Saudi Arabia easily surpassed the required two-thirds majority required for the seat: Of the 191 member-states voting by secret ballot, only 15 did not support the oil-rich Gulf state that is ruled by an autocratic monarchy according to the strict Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, is frequently criticized for a poor human rights record and is viewed as one the world’s worst persecutors of Christians.
Earlier, Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, called the election “yet another indicator of the international community disregard to oppression and that any talk of them supporting human rights and democracy is insincere.”
While its Security Council seat would give Saudi Arabia a global platform to project its policies it would also provide “us as an opposition an excellent chance to increase the pressure on this obsolete monarchy and to expose its dark sides,” he said.
“The people on the region are starting to see the true nature of the Saudi monarchy, and soon more people will open their eyes, in spite of the Saudi media empire,” al-Ahmed added.
Ali Alyami, executive director of the Washington-based non-profit Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) was scathing in his criticism of Saudi Arabia and the U.N., calling the latter “a useless elitists’ club that represents mostly violators of human rights, like the Saudi regime.”
“As the Saudis becoming more isolated and less significant, they need little assurances from their Western and other allies that they are not totally forgotten yet,” he said, calling the election “a little ego boost.”
The CDHR argues that Saudi Arabia is seeing its influence diminish as a result of developments in the region, citing the “Arab spring” uprisings, U.S. reluctance to intervene military in the Syrian civil war, and its tentative rapprochement with Iran.
A Geneva-based human rights group, U.N. Watch, noted that the U.N. Charter states that “due regard” should be “specially paid” to Security Council candidates that contribute to the purposes of the world body. These include “maintenance of international peace and security” as well as “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
Yet Saudi Arabia has a “dismal” human rights record, said executive director Hillel Neuer.
“Women are subjugated in Saudi Arabia. They suffer gross and systematic inequality, and discrimination in law and practice,” he said. “They can’t vote, drive a car, or even travel within or outside of the country without the permission of a male relative.”
“Freedom of religion does not exist under the Wahhabist regime,” Neuer added. “Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, while the practice of Christianity and other religions are completely forbidden.”
Saudi Arabia is also a candidate in next month’s election for the U.N.’s flagship rights body, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
A new Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, also finds Saudi Arabia’s image is slipping in the region, in some cases quite significantly.
Although solid majorities still view the kingdom positively in Jordan and Egypt, Lebanon is divided and in Turkey and Tunisia more people view it negatively.
Pew found that positive views of Saudi Arabia had dropped in Arab states between 2007 and 2013 – by 31 points in Lebanon, 14 in Turkey, 13 in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, and by two points in Jordan.
Across 39 countries around the world surveyed in Pew this year, a median of just 18 percent agreed that the kingdom’s government respects the personal freedoms of its people. By comparison, a global median of 70 percent said the U.S. respects the human rights of its people.