THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
SAUDI LOCAL ELECTIONS DELAYED FOR TWO YEARS
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Issue: Saudi Local Elections Delayed for Two Years; Attachments:
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Saudi Local Elections Delayed for
Two Years, New
York Times, by Michael Slackman, Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from
The Saudi Arabia Universal Periodic Review will be up adopted during the eleventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Working Group report with recommendations is available now in Reports for the eleventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (2-18 June 2009) in the six languages of the United Nations. Documents Attached: Saudi Local Elections Delayed Two Years; Saudi Arabia-Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief; Islam & The Inviolable Right to Change a Religion or Belief.
Excerpts: Excerpts are presented under the Eight Articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Examples of extracts are presented prior to an Issue Statement for each Review.
1. 1 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practices and teaching.
1. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
Link: Saudi Local Elections Delayed for Two Years, New York Times,
by Michael Slackman, Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from
CAIRO — Saudi Arabia’s brief and limited experiment with electoral democracy has suffered another setback with an announcement that the royal family has decided to postpone local council elections by at least two years.
The Council of Ministers, which is led by King Abdullah, made the announcement on Monday. It phrased the decision in positive terms, saying the government had “extended the mandate” of the sitting councils by two years so that it could prepare changes to the law to “expand the participation of citizens in the management of local affairs.”
But the decision delayed what was to have been the kingdom’s second round of national elections, and its small, frustrated community of human-rights and democracy activists immediately lamented the decision as another blow.
“I consider the decision a delay in a reform process that we were supposed to believe really began when we started this process of elections,” said Hatoon al-Fasi, assistant professor of women’s history at King Saud University.
Saudi Arabia held its first nationwide elections in 2005 for the newly created local councils, the kingdom’s first step in decades toward limited popular democracy. The 2005 election allowed men, but not women, to vote for half the representatives to 178 municipal councils. The other half were appointed.
Just last week, a group of 77 activists eager for a more representative form of government sent a letter to King Abdullah and other members of the royal family.
They called for the royal family to allow for an elected Parliament with legislative authority, to agree to term limits for members of the royal family in appointed posts, and to have someone outside the royal family be appointed prime minister.
Without saying so directly, the signatories called for creation of a constitutional monarchy accountable to the public, a prospect the royal family has demonstrated its adamant opposition to and views as a threat.
“Elections are essential, but the decision-makers do not recognize the right of the people to be represented by someone other than al-Saud,” said Waleed Sami Abu al-Khair, a lawyer who signed the letter. He was referring to the royal family.
decision-makers do not want elections,” he added. “They held the elections
before just to show the
When the government announced its plans in 2003 to allow the council elections, they were billed as part of an overall plan to edge this conservative, tradition-bound nation toward a more open system. Crown Prince Abdullah, now the king, had included them in a broader agenda that included a formalized national dialogue, conferences at which various groups were invited to discuss national issues.
Taken together, his programs suggested an interest in fostering public participation in a process that had been the exclusive province of the royal family. But from the very start, the councils proved to be a disappointment, fueling apathy more than interest.
“The whole experience was
a failure,” said Hamed al-Qahtani, an architect who lives in the eastern
The decision to delay the council elections, which had been scheduled for this year, was expected. The government’s statement that the delay would give it time to write a law, further opening the process of municipal elections, made no mention of allowing women to vote, which had earlier been discussed.
“They want to grant more powers to these councils and expand the electoral process so that the elected portion would be wider and bigger,” said Anwar Majid Eshki, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, which is based in Saudi Arabia. “This is considered a good step for the local councils, and that’s why they extended for two years.”
King Abdullah is popular and has taken what are considered bold moves to try to speed reconciliation between modernity and his ultra-religious, traditional nation. He has ousted from power some major conservative figures, and he appointed the first female deputy minister. While he has absolute authority, he still must rule by consensus within the family, and there are forces that oppose his actions.
“You have a reform-oriented king trying to push in the direction of reform, but you have a non-reform-oriented structure that is close to impossible to change,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. “That makes for a step forward sometimes, and many times, it is combined with a step backward.”
The steps the king has taken are also seen as helping secure the nation’s stability and preserve the family’s grip on power. The royal family has shown no interest in making changes that would allow power sharing outside the Saud bloodline.
In their letter, the avowed human-rights activists suggested that the royal family would see its future strengthened, not undermined, by a more open, democratic system. “It will be in the best interest of the monarchy if the public is allowed to participate in the election process and is given a choice, and a voice,” the letter said.
ISSUE STATEMENT: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”
Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.
In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of the complexity and sensitivity. After forty-one years there is increased violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief. It is time for an international treaty – a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
The challenge to religions or beliefs is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers, laity of religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.
The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), shows the scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4) a guide for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. Available at: www.ohchr.org.
Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
We welcome your ideas on how this can be accomplished; firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE TANDEM PROJECT PROPOSALS
Proposals for constructive, long-term solutions to conflicts based on religion or belief:
(1) Develop a model local-national-international integrated approach to human rights and freedom of religion or belief, appropriate to your country, as follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review. * (2) Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a rule of law for inclusive and genuine dialogue on core values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs, and for protection against discrimination. (3) Use the standards on freedom of religion or belief in education curricula and places of worship, teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project: email@example.com.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations