Saudi donates $1m to human rights commission

In November, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia won three-year seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council

Saudi has reportedly donated $1m to the High Commission for Human Rights in a “continuation to its voluntary support for United Nations organisations”, state media reported.

Saudi Human Rights Council president Bandar Al Aiban and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay made the announcement in Geneva where Al Aiban is leading the kingdom’s delegation to a council meeting.

In November, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia won three-year seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the United Nations' top rights body, despite concerns about the track records of all three countries.

The pair discussed ways of co-operation between the two sides, Saudi Press Agency reported.

SPA said Al Aiban pledged the kingdom’s support for the commission’s work, “noting its strenuous efforts to lift sufferings of the Syrian people”.

Pillay, it was reported, thanked King Abdullah for Saudi’s “supportive positions towards human rights issues”.

Saudi has been repeatedly criticised by international groups such as Amnesty International over what it claims are human rights abuses.

Last month, Amnesty International claimed a new law in Saudi intended to give authorities broader powers to clamp down on terrorism would further entrench human rights abuses and suppress peaceful political dissent.

The kingdom’s Law for the Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, which took effect at the start of February, grants wider powers to the Ministry of Interior to circumvent the judiciary and allows for suspects to be held for 90 days without legal representation, Amnesty International said.

The group, which expressed its concerns over a draft of the law two years ago, said that the law effectively legalised a number of human rights violations, including detention of up to a year without charge.

“This disturbing new law confirms our worst fears – that the Saudi Arabian authorities are seeking legal cover to entrench the ability to crack down on peaceful dissent and silence human rights defenders,” said Said Boumedouha, Middle East and Africa programme deputy director at Amnesty.

The activation of the law comes just months after the Gulf kingdom ascended to its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said the newly elected members of the council include "some that commit significant violations of the rights the council is designed to advance and protect" and that the election itself was a reminder that the council's work remains unfinished.

Power did not specify which countries she was referring to. Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch was more specific.

"With the return of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, human rights defenders will have their work cut out for them at the Human Rights Council next year," said Hicks, an expert at the New York-based advocacy group.

"Fortunately, no states have a veto in Geneva so a hard-working majority can still achieve concrete results."

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