Not the UN’s finest hour

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.


  1. says

    The airport outside of Jeddah, where the hajjis arrive, is an insane thing. 747s park under huge awnings and people climb down stair jetways onto the tarmac. The place is filled with live samples of every pathogen known to man. The 2nd time I went through there I declined to go through the VIP wing and got the “real experience” along with a simultaneous pair of flu viruses. If something really nasty and fast spreading innoculates there it will be a public health disaster, a real “outbreak” scenario.

    With respect to the Saudis and the UN -- meh. The UN, as a pseudo-ratifying body for the imperialists that created it, doesn’t deserve even as much credibility as it takes to laugh at it. After all, the US imprisons ridiculous numbers (and kills and tortures many) and uses its veto to protect other apartheid, racist, murdering states. The worst we can say about Saudi is they are in appropriate company.

  2. StevoR says

    From this article :

    Naturally, Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record makes it, in the eyes of the United Nations, an expert on the subject: Saudi Arabia sits on the UN Human Rights Council and is even part of the committee that helps choose the council’s human-rights experts. The UN Human Rights Council is already a debased body, whose members include Cuba, Venezuela, China, Pakistan, Qatar, and Vietnam. Providing Saudi Arabia with a leadership role in this group is an affront to morality and good sense.

    The UN has a long and horrible history of being a dictators debating club. Its Human Rights council basically being an Orwellian oxymoron with a notorious anti-Semitic bias and a record of abject hypocrisy and failure. The UN more broadly has also demonstrably been proven corrupt and incapable of effective international actions due to the veto power and its low membership bar where all nations have equal say -- an evil dictatorship with a tiny population every bit as much as a long established prosperous democracy with many times the dictatorships population.

    I think the UN badly needs total rethinking and overhaul or perhaps just scrapping and starting over again. I also think it is pretty much obscene given this sort of thing among others to invest the UN with any sort of ethical influence or consider it a worthwhile body for determining truth and justice.

    It is worth noting that the UN has utterly failed in the purpose it was supposedly designed for -- stopping wars.

    That said, there are a few sadly too rare instances especially on climate and environmental issues where some UN bodies have done some good. The IPCC, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are some UN bodies that have probably been good and useful things doing some good work.

    @ 2. Marcus Ranum : The UN’s finest hour was probably its role during the 1991 Kuwait war where for once it’s resolutions against then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his occupation of his small oil-rich neighbour were enforced and enabled the US led UN backed coalition to free Kuwait from Saddam’s tyrannical occupation of that nation. This was mostly an accident of historical timing where we had that brief post Cold War window of nations generally being united and working together(~ish.) The UN also played a reasonable role arguably in the Korean war although that was far less decisive and clear cut in its results -- sadly for the people of North Korea. Perhaps anyhow. (That’s “perhaps UN’s finest hours” depending on exactly what you mean there.)

  3. says

    The UN’s finest hour was probably its role during the 1991 Kuwait war where for once it’s resolutions against then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his occupation of his small oil-rich neighbour were enforced and enabled the US led UN backed coalition to free Kuwait from Saddam’s tyrannical occupation of that nation

    I agree it was probably the UN’s finest hour. It was one of the rare times when the power bloc that controls it’s interest aligned with something fairly righteous. If the UN had opposed it, the war against Iraq would have still gone forward, so I’d say it was a case of “the broken clock has a finest hour every 24” or something like that.

    Korea … hm, not so good. That was clearly a powerplay in the whole coldwar anti communism thing and it’s pretty obvious that most of the fighting was the US containing an attempt to re-draw lines on the map that the US had drawn for its own imperial reasons.

    I’m not trying to argue with you (for once) I think we’re pretty much in agreement, actually. The UN’s finest hour isn’t much, is it? Especially when you stack up against the number of times it has stood by uselessly wringing its hands (which is an acknowledgement of its powerlessness) or playing lapdog to the US.

  4. StevoR says

    @ ^ Marcus Ranum : Yes indeed. Rwanada, Bosnia, the genocidal massacre at Srebrenitiza, the massacres of the East Timorese, West Paupans and Tibetans, ad nauseam.

    The UN really has been worse than a failure.

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