Saudi Arabia hosts UN-backed human rights summit 'on combating religious discrimination'

Participants 'agree on importance of human rights education'

Saudi Arabia has hosted an international conference on human rights, attended by the president of the UN Human Rights Council, and resolved to combat intolerance and violence based on religious belief.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) - which has its headquarters in Jeddah - convened the fifth annual meeting of the Istanbul Process as the kingdom's Supreme Court prepared to rule on the case of blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam through religious channels”. It later upheld the sentence.

The UN HRC recently faced criticism over Saudi plans to head up the council from 2016, in what critics said would be the “final nail in the coffin” for the international body.

And the Geneva-based human rights campaign group UN Watch accused HRC president Joachim Rücker of giving “false international legitimacy” to the two-day conference on religious freedoms held in Jeddah on 3 and 4 June.

According to a report in the Saudi Gazette, the participants in the conference “began with an agreement to put [HRC] resolution 16/18 into effect” – a pledge by all member states to combat “intolerance and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief”.

“In addition, participants agreed on the importance on providing human rights education and encouraging religious and cultural diversity in communities.”

Invited to make the opening statement at the conference, Mr Rücker told the summit: “Religious intolerance and violence committed in the name of religion rank among the most significant human rights challenges of our times.”

But Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said: “It’s bad enough that the oppressive and fundamentalist Saudi monarchy was elected to sit on the UN Human Rights Council.

“But for top UN human rights officials to now visit Jeddah and smile while human rights activist Raif Badawi languishes in prison for the crime of religious dissent, still under threat of further flogging, is to pour salt in the wounds. It’s astonishing.”

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