But will they take it back?
The administration is under fire over a State Department spokesman’s comment that the U.S. welcomes a leadership position for Saudi Arabia – widely viewed as one of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers – on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“We would welcome it,” spokesman Mark Toner said at a daily press briefing Tuesday when asked about the kingdom’s assuming of a leadership position at the Geneva-based council. “We’re close allies.”
U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that monitors the HRC, urged U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power to repudiate Toner’s remark.
“This is the absolute WORST comment in the history of the U.S. gov,” U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said in a tweet addressed to Power. “I urge you to reverse it.”
Neuer said Wednesday the department’s comment was “simply mind-boggling.”
“If I didn’t actually see the spokesman saying those words on video, it would be literally impossible to believe,” he said.
“This cannot stand,” Neuer said, adding that both Secretary of State John Kerry and Power “need to unequivocally renounce the bizarre U.S. endorsement of a misogynistic theocracy as chair of a U.N. human rights committee.”
Toner’s remark came despite the fact the Obama administration, a keen participant in the HRC, has generally been critical of the election onto the council of countries with poor human rights records.
Those countries’ bids tend to be successful because there are no mandatory criteria for membership, and because regional groups routinely submit “closed slates” – the same number of candidates for HRC membership as there are seats available for that group – thus avoiding any competition.
When Saudi Arabia – along with China, Russia, Cuba, Vietnam and Algeria – was elected onto the HRC for a three-year term in November 2013, Power deplored the fact that some of the newcomers “commit significant violations of the rights the council is designed to advance and protect.”
A year earlier, when Venezuela, Pakistan and Kazakhstan were among those elected, Power’s predecessor, Susan Rice, pointed out that when regional groups have competitive slates, it helps to ensure that the “worst abusers of human rights are not elected to the council.”