by Elizabeth Kendal
According to the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), 'The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.' To monitor international human rights, the UNHRC appoints special rapporteurs and independent experts to investigate for and report to the UNHRC in Geneva. Appointments are made at the recommendation of the Consultative Group, comprising five Permanent Representatives (ambassadors). This week the organisation known as Human Rights Watch exposed something the UNHRC had tried to keep quiet: in May, ahead of the UNHRC's June 2015 session, Faisal Trad, Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Geneva, was appointed as Chair of the Consultative Group, possibly in a back-room deal. What this means is that about 77 'experts', to be reporting on countries such as Sudan or on issues such as religious liberty or 'Islamophobia' (for example), will have to be approved by Saudi Arabia.
The UNHRC was created in 2006 to replace the 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights which had collapsed in moral confusion. Recent events indicate that the UNHRC might similarly be on the brink of collapse. This was entirely predictable because the UN can be likened to a modern-day 'Tower of Babel' - a worldly attempt to forge peace and cohesion independent of God (Gen. 11:1-9) - cursed from the beginning. While it is imperative that Christians speak in the UN, we should never put our faith in it.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. It is a place where 'insulting Islam' on a blog can earn you 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes, as was the case with Raif Badawi (31). It is a place where beheading is commonplace, not only of criminals, but of poor (often foreign) scapegoats who are tortured and denied due legal process. In January footage hit the web of a Burmese woman being held by police and beheaded with a sword on the side of a road in broad daylight in front of traffic and pedestrians. In May, when Saudi Arabia was being appointed as Chair of the UNHRC's Consultative Group, it had already beheaded some 85 prisoners this year and was advertising for more executioners. At least two political dissidents are on death row. Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr (53) was arrested in Eastern Province in 2011 in the wake of the 'Arab Spring'. Charged with 'waging war against God,' he was sentenced in October 2014 to death by beheading followed by the public crucifixion of his decapitated body. He remains on death row as his execution could trigger chaos. Joining Sheik al-Nimr on death row is his nephew, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr (21). Ali was arrested in 2012 (aged 17) for protesting the kingdom's treatment of its Shi'ite minority. Ali too has been sentenced to death by beheading followed by the public crucifixion of his decapitated body. In truth, the only thing that differentiates the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia from the 'Islamic State' (ISIS) is a few decades of realpolitik (politics determined by 'interests', not morals).
The constitution defines Saudi citizens as Muslims and apostasy (leaving Islam) is a capital offence. Apostates are rarely executed by the state as the family usually kills them first, as was the case with 'Rania', whose family cut out her tongue and then burned her to death. Almost all the Christians in Saudi Arabia are expatriate workers. While Westerners and professionals working in the oil industry are housed in gated estates and have access to a chapel in their embassy, poor African and Asian labourers get no such luxuries. Their passports are confiscated on arrival and they are used and abused as slaves. No visible or audible expression of Christianity is allowed and house churches are banned. Contrary to the regime's claim that Saudi Christianity does not exist, it does - and not only in the diaspora. Jesus Christ is at work in Saudi Arabia, reaching Saudi citizens through satellite TV, radio, dreams and visions and sometimes even through personal witness. It was through the witness of a Lebanese Christian named Henna Sarkees (51) that a Saudi woman (28) working in the same firm came to embrace Jesus as Saviour. Sarkees helped the convert flee, but was himself arrested and sentenced to six years in prison with 300 lashes for the crime of 'evangelism'. Not only is Saudi Arabia one the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian, Saudi Christians are at risk anywhere in the world as Saudi authorities like to track down converts in the diaspora. It will even use Interpol to find them.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT
* the Lord will protect Saudi Arabia's vulnerable Asian and African Christian expatriate workers, especially as they risk life and liberty to meet for fellowship and worship; may the Christian expatriate community grow in grace and numbers.
* the Lord will protect and sustain Saudi Christians and all Arab Christians throughout the entire Arabian Peninsula, blessing them, keeping them safe and providing them with everything they need.
* the controversy over the UNHRC's shameful appointment of Saudi Arabia as Chair of the Consultative Group will pave the way for an exposure of human rights and religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.
* this controversy will serve to remind Christians that our hope must be in the Lord alone. [For a prayer on this, see "Prayer: Moving into the City of God" from Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today, (Melbourne, Australia: Deror Books, 2012) pages 177-8; or http://www.turnbackthebattle.com/pdf/DiscussionQns/DiscussionChapter8.pdf ]