While the UN does a lot of good work, one of its biggest problems is that many of the roles on its committees are either arrived at by rotation or by some Byzantine process that can result in what to outsiders seems like utterly ridiculous outcomes. In this category is the news that Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, has been appointed chair of a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, even as that nation is about to behead a young man Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr “accused of a variety of crimes against the state, all stemming from protests he took part in against the Saudi government” and who was just 17 years old at the time of his arrest.
I’ll let Glenn Greenwald take it from here.
Last week’s announcement that Saudi Arabia – easily one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes – was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel provoked indignation around the world. That reaction was triggered for obvious reasons. Not only has Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year mostly by beheading (a rate of 1 execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.
What adds insult to injury is that the US State Department spokesperson seems to be welcoming the news of the appointment of Trad because Saudi Arabia is a “close ally”, showing how absurdly deferential the US is to easily one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Today also brings news of the tragic deaths of over 700 people because of a mass stampede at the annual Haj festival pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. What is even more shocking is that this mass stampede death is not the first one, nor is it the worst, and is the product of religious dogma and thus completely avoidable.
The problem is that apparently Islam obliges every adult believer who is physically capable to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, and that it has to occur within a window of less than a week each year. Given the huge number of Muslims worldwide, this is a recipe for disaster.
How can the government of Saudi Arabia not institute steps to see that this kind of thing never happens again? It is true that the presence of over two million people arriving all at once creates a logistical nightmare. But surely there should be a way of either reducing the total number allowed to attend to a number even lower than the current amount or spreading the pilgrimage over a much longer period or even the whole year so that people are not crammed together and creating the conditions under which such deadly stampedes can occur. Or even drop the obligatory nature of the pilgrimage altogether.
But religious leaders will insist that the requirement to make the pilgrimage within the annual limited window of time is demanded by their god and thus continue to risk the lives of those who believe such things.