A series of recently leaked emails shows that the Belgian delegation was instructed in advance to vote for the appointment of Saudi Arabia as a member of a United Nations committee on gender equality, despite Riyadh’s massive discrimination against women.
The leaked documents, cited by Belgian news network 7sur7 and UN Watch, revealed that Belgian diplomats had been instructed to provide “support to the candidates for the various positions during the secret vote.”
According to internal emails leaked on Friday by the Green Party, the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was far in advance informed of the vote at the 45-member UN body, known as the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
In addition, the cabinet of Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders wanted the delegation to seek the opportunity “to inform Saudi Arabia” about the support.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel earlier publicly regretted the move, saying that the delegation was caught unaware by the sudden vote, and did not have enough time to consult with Brussels.
The Belgian foreign minister had also said there had been some sort of miscommunication. Reynders had said he “personally” was not aware of the voting procedure that was underway.
On Wednesday, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected 13 members, including Saudi Arabia, to four-year terms on the CSW, which is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Reacting to the appointment, the human rights group UN Watch lashed out at the United Nations for the appointment of Saudi Arabia.
The executive director of the group, Hillel Neuer, in a Sunday statement, strongly denounced the appointment, saying, “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”
In recent years, the Al Saud regime has come under intense pressure by rights groups for mistreating women.
Under Saudi law, a woman must have permission from a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, in the case of a widow, sometimes her son, to obtain a passport, marry, travel, exit prison and sometimes work or access health care.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The ban stems from a religious fatwa imposed by Wahhabi clerics. If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged.
Out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 in 2016.