Norway opposition demands answers over Saudi Arabia women's commission vote

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Norway opposition demands answers over Saudi Arabia women's commission vote
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Norway’s opposition parties have asked in parliament that the government confirm whether it voted for Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in a UN women’s rights commission.


Both the Liberal (Venstre) and Christian Democrat parties have asked foreign minister Børge Brende to confirm whether Norway voted for the Gulf kingdom, which rules by a strict interpretation of Islam, in the commission.

Saudi Arabia was voted on to the commission Tuesday along with four other Asian nations – South Korea, Japan, Iraq and Turkmenistan.

The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 134 out of 145 countries for gender equality and it is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving.

The issue of Norway’s vote is scheduled to be taken up by Liberal leader Trine Skei Grande in parliament today, reports broadcaster NRK.

While the commission is tasked with working exclusively towards “equality and women’s rights,” Saudi Arabia discriminates systematically against women through both its laws and practices, says administrative director Hillel Neuer of watchdog organisation UN Watch.

“Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia bans women from driving cars. Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading oppressor of women to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women?” writes Neuer on UN Watch’s website.

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia slams Norway on human rights

At least five EU states must have voted for the Saudis to serve a four-year term on the commission in the secret ballot, Neuer told British newspaper The Independent.

Norway participated in the UN vote, but the Foreign Ministry has not yet confirmed which way it voted.

“Voting in connection with UN candidatures within the UN is not public, in keeping with procedural rules on secret voting. This is standard practice followed by most countries and has been followed by Norway under several governments,” foreign ministry head of communication Frode O. Andersen told NRK.

Although the vote itself is secret, UN rules do not prevent members from making their votes public after the result is confirmed, Neuer told NRK.

Saudi Arabia’s candidature received backing from 47 of the 54 member states of the UN economic and social council Ecosoc in the vote.

“I think it is important that to be open about how Norway acts internationally. This is an alarming enough result for there to be good reason to make [the Norwegian vote] public,” Grande told NRK.

The Venstre leader added that she would find it “alarming” had Norway voted for Saudi inclusion on the commission.

“This is a regime that is possibly the worst in the world for women. It is a strange result, and also quite frightening in terms of women’s rights worldwide,” she said.

Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide said that he hoped Norway had not voted for Saudi Arabia.

“We probably can’t stop them from being voted in, but Norway should not have supported it and we ought to be clear about what we have done,” he told NRK.

Saudi Arabia also sits on the UN Human Rights Council.


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