Belfast Telegraph

Ministers retain silence on vote over Saudi place on UN women's rights body

The Irish Government has said it would be irresponsible and damaging to confirm whether it backed Saudi Arabia's bid for a seat on an international body on women's rights.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is facing deep criticism after refusing to divulge how the Republic voted in a secret United Nations (UN) ballot last month.

Saudi Arabia successfully secured membership of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women, which Ireland has been chair of since March .

Mr Flanagan said Ireland observes the conventions of UN participation, including secrecy around elections.

" It is my strong view that it would be very damaging to Ireland's ability to conduct international relations successfully if we moved away from this established practice," the minister said.

"It would be irresponsible of me to abandon a practice that has been in place for over six decades, observed by all previous governments and is grounded on protecting and promoting the values of small countries on the world stage."

The UN's Commission on the Status of Women was set up in 1946 and is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

It says it is instrumental in promoting women's rights and documenting the reality of women's lives throughout the world.

Human Rights Watch states there have been "marginal improvements" on women's rights in Saudi Arabia in recent years, mainly in employment and higher education, but men continue to control female relatives' lives.

Women in Saudi Arabia could not vote until two years ago.

The kingdom was one of 13 countries to be given a role on the Commission on the Status of Women for the next four years and f ive of the country's 47 votes are said to have come from European countries.

A similar controversy erupted in Belgium, where the country's prime minister Charles Michel subsequently revealed the government would have voted differently if given another chance.

Mr Flanagan said the secret ballots at the UN allow its diverse membership to function well and "facilitate outcomes on sensitive issues".

"In meetings with governments of countries where Ireland has human-rights concerns, I clearly set out those concerns," he said.

"When I was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last year, I directly raised the need for progress in my discussions with the Saudi authorities.

"This is a matter of record. Ireland uses all the diplomatic channels at our disposal to promote and advance human rights."

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