UN human rights hypocrisy is on full display this week, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backpedals from adding Saudi Arabia to a list of child rights violators. A report released last week by the Secretary-General’s office accuses Saudi Arabia of recklessly endangering children’s lives in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military intervention reportedly killed more than 500 children last year.
Reuters details the behind-the-scenes jockeying that led Ban to pull Saudi Arabia from the blacklist:
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said Ban’s office was bombarded with calls from Gulf Arab foreign ministers, as well as ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), after the blacklisting was announced last week. One U.N. official spoke of a “full-court press” over the blacklisting.
“Bullying, threats, pressure,” another diplomatic source told Reuters on condition of anonymity about the reaction to the blacklisting, adding that it was “real blackmail.”
The source said there was also a threat of “clerics in Riyadh meeting to issue a fatwa against the U.N., declaring it anti-Muslim, which would mean no contacts of OIC members, no relations, contributions, support, to any U.N. projects, programs.”
When the Saudis have an objective in mind, they aren’t afraid to play hardball to secure it—in Yemen or at the UN. It’s also worth noting that the House of Saud and its Gulf State allies weren’t afraid to threaten to withdraw funding for the Palestinians, whose food and education are highly subsidized by UN agencies, which in turn receive about $150 million annually from the Saudis and their petro-state partners.
Countering Iran’s regional ambitions has become the number one priority for Saudi foreign policy, rendering even the plight of the Palestinians, once a cause célèbre for the Gulf States, secondary. The emerging Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian-Israeli entente is further evidence that the logic of hard power politics, never absent from the Middle East, is now stronger than ever, and will continue to overshadow the West’s humanitarian concerns.
The UN may be chartered with the lofty mission of keeping the peace and upholding human rights, but in reality it is a spineless institution, hopelessly hooked on contributions from the very regimes it is supposed to scrutinize. That the Secretary-General is caving to Saudi pressure and scrapping a seemingly well-researched report may be a news story, but it is not a new story. Pious human rights hosannas may ring in the chambers of the General Assembly, but behind the scenes we all know that money and power speak loudest of all.