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What does 'Bandar Bush' have to say about the Saudi human rights record?

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the U.S., Prince Bandar. I’m sure floggings and beheadings occurring in the Kingdom are not a topic of conversation at family gatherings.

As I recall, one of reasons for overthrowing Saddam (aside from the non-existent WMDs) was to return Iraq to the people, to encourage democracy and human rights. Isn’t if funny how one of our closest allies (one that pumps an awful lot of oil, by the way) won’t allow women to vote or drive, and subjects people suspected of being gay to unspeakable torture.

I wonder if the topic of human rights ever comes up when Chimpy and his family friend Saudi Prince Bandar, or Bandar Bush (his pet name), sit down for a chat in Crawford or at the White House. Better yet, what does Darth Cheney think about this cozy relationship with a country that would physically punish his queer daughter for being openly gay. (Guardian):

Dozens of Saudi men caught dancing and “behaving like women” at a party have been sentenced to a total of 14,200 lashes, after a trial held behind closed doors and without defence lawyers.

The men were also given jail sentences of up to two years. They were arrested last month when the police in Jeddah raided a party which was described by a Saudi newspaper as a “gay wedding”.

“Prosecuting and imprisoning people for homosexual conduct are flagrant human rights violations,” Scott Long, of the US organisation Human Rights Watch said. “Subjecting the victims to floggings is torture, pure and simple.”

HRW said it had established that 31 of the men received prison sentences of six months to one year, plus 200 lashes each. Four were jailed for two years with 2,000 lashes.

A further 70 men were released after the raid but summoned to a police station on April 3, where they were told they had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. HRW said that according to a friend of one of the arrested men the gathering was a birthday party.

According to the Kingdom’s National Organization for Human Rights (NOHR) — there’s an oxymoron of epic proportions — amputations and floggings are not violations of human rights.

“There are those who consider certain issues a violation of human rights, while we consider them a safeguard to human rights – for example, executions, amputating the hand of a thief, or flogging an adulterer. There are those who think that all Qur’anic punishments violate human rights. Therefore, the position of the Saudi foreign ministry, and the position of many Islamic countries and even some of the Western countries, is that international proclamations of human rights and their related protocols are [considered only] general principles, and that their implementation is subject to the laws [of each country]”

NOHR Chairman Dr. Abdallah Bin Saleh Al-‘Ubeid

When asked about the scope of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, Turki Bin Muhammad answered: “Based on my work, and my involvement in this issue for over eight years, I can say that there are no significant human rights violations, as alleged falsely by suspicious parties. There may be some transgressions by individuals [or institutions], but they do not rise to the level that could be described as human rights violations. I think these cases can be managed when they arise.”

Prince Turki Bin Muhammad

Women and the Kingdom. A Saudi woman not only cannot drive or vote, she also needs written permission from a man to get an education, a job, or even purchase a plane ticket. There is an excellent Ed Bradley piece that aired on 60 Minutes (it’s up on the CBS web site), which featured an interview with Rania al-Baz, a well-known Saudi television personality, who was the first woman to speak out on the issue of domestic violence and women.

“He grabbed me and threw me on the ground. Then he choked me, and told me to declare my faith, this is what someone says just before dying,” says al-Baz. “Then he choked me so hard that I woke up in the hospital four days later.” But instead of keeping what happened to her a secret, al-Baz caused a sensation, when a television show broadcast pictures of her injuries and she became the first Saudi woman to break the taboo against publicly discussing domestic violence.

“I am trying, as a Saudi woman, to raise the awareness of unstable men, who sees women as inferior, who resort to violence, and who are abusive to women,” says al-Baz.

This is a country where half of the college graduates are women and only five percent are in the work force — the educated women are restless and stirring for change. Without the physical and legal threats imposed by Sharia law, it’s likely that there would have been more progress by women’s rights efforts by now.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding