The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia both serve on the United Nations’ human rights council (HRC), an influential watchdog group for abuses around the world, but the two nations may have achieved that status by unlawful means. Leaked documents obtained by the Australian (paywall) show that the UK and Saudi Arabia exchanged money and votes to get each other elected to the HRC in 2013.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador was recently appointed to lead the human rights council, despite fierce opposition from critics who say the kingdom’s atrocious human rights record—including its recent verdict to behead and crucify a 21-year-old activist.
The alleged vote-trading happened in November 2013 in New York, during the session to elect states for 2014-16 membership to the HRC. Discussion of the vote-trading scheme happened over diplomatic cables between the two nations, dated January and February 2013.
The Australian and the UN Watch, a non-governmental body that monitors the UN, translated the Saudi cables, and found that the UK asked the Arab state to support its candidacy to join the human rights group. Saudi officials responded, by offering their support, in return for the UK’s.
“The ministry might find it an opportunity,” the cable read, “to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom… in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In another cable, Saudi Arabia paid $100,000 USD ($66,099 GBP) to the UK for unspecified “expenditures” related to nominating the Arab state to the HRC.