The Gulf kingdom, where homosexuality is punishable by beheading, objected to a report by the special rapporteur on torture because extending human rights protections to LGBT people “lacked any ground in international law.”
GENEVA — At the most recent session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia objected to a resolution that condemns the use of torture by law enforcement and reaffirms the human rights of LGBT people.
The resolution, passed during the council’s 31st session, which closed on March 24, condemns the use of torture “and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and urges nations to prevent torture by police or during pre-trial detention.
While the report is primarily focused on police and governmental use of torture, it briefly references the latest report by Juan Mendez, the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was issued during the session.
According to a U.N. press release, Saudi Arabia protested because Mendez’s report “included 65 references to sexual orientation and was an attempt to use the eradication of torture to promote other issues, which lacked any ground in international law.”
In essence, the Gulf kingdom, claiming to be speaking “on behalf of a number of countries,” was concerned that objecting to police torture might also require its own government to advocate for the human rights of LGBT people.
In Saudi Arabia, homosexual behavior is punishable by the death penalty. Three gay men were executed by beheading there in 2002. In July 2014, Saudi Arabia sentenced another gay man to three years imprisonment and 450 lashes for meeting men on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Human Rights Council has provoked controversy in the past, especially in September, when the nation was asked to lead the “Consultative Group,” which helps the council appoint human rights experts who serve in a variety of peacekeeping roles around the world. Cables released by WikiLeaks last year revealed that the Saudis made a secret deal with the United Kingdom to ensure their places in the council.
The HRC has affirmed that human rights are universal, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, most recently in a 2014 resolution — a resolution which Saudi Arabia voted against.
“The extreme proposal comes amid a reported surge in the number of homosexuality-related crimes being prosecuted in the city of Jeddah, which officials attribute to a growing use of social media among members of the kingdom’s LGBT community,” wrote Shane Dixon Kavanaugh.
Saudi Arabia’s objection to any recognition of LGBT human rights may ultimately be a distraction from the kingdom’s overall fondness for torture in all its forms. Amnesty International’s website declares that “Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world.” In addition to routine use of torture, the NGO also cites “public execution, discrimination, intolerance for free speech, possible war crimes in Yemen,” among many other offenses.
Despite these well-documented violations, Saudi Arabia remains a close ally of the United States. The U.S. continues to arm the Saudi military despite repeated war crimes in Yemen. Few mainstream media sites seemed to take note of the recent crackdown on LGBT social media use, even as similar behavior by terrorist groups like Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the extremist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL) is widely condemned in the media.
Speaking to Catherine Shakdam in January, investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley said the special treatment afforded to Saudi Arabia “exemplified America’s exceptionalism.”
Shakdam concurred, adding:
“Saudi Arabia’s ‘special friendship’ with the U.S. … has allowed for U.S. officials to pick and choose when to show outrage and when to denounce human rights violations, manipulating international law to the tune of their own political agendas, rather than objectively defending the rule of law.”