The recent death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was a notable event in a Kingdom where human lives are cheap, where critical speech is not tolerated and where women’s rights are frankly abysmal. The sentencing of Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes for setting up a blogging website to criticize the state of politics in the country and the use of beheading as a punishment further underline the shocking state of human rights in the country. So, why then did Prime Minister John Key send the Governor General to be present at the funeral?
Mr Key says that New Zealand has good economic relations with Saudi Arabia and that the King has been a friend of New Zealand. He further says that it is good practice to send a dignitary to be present at the funeral of another head of state.
The heads of government in other nations have been forced to defend their decision to send a dignitary to the funeral of King Abdullah. In Britain, Labour Members of Parliament as well as U.K. Independence Party (U.K.I.P) spoke out against the decision of White Hall to fly the Union Jack at half mast. The Government of British Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out that Saudi Arabia had been an “ally against Islamic terror”. Prior to leaving the United States for the funeral, President Obama told C.N.N. that now was not an appropriate time to be talking human rights with Saudi Arabia.
There was nothing to be gained on New Zealand’s behalf recognizing the death of a King who styled himself as a reformer for the better, but whose human rights record is as dismal as that of any of his predecessors. In his years on the throne, King Abdullah did very little to clean up the international perception that Saudi Arabia hates women. Beheadings for crimes allegedly committed (but not necessarily proven)are as common as ever. Censorship is enforced by lashings and some lesser crimes involve the removal of fingers.
Once upon a time New Zealand was a nation of principle, a nation with back bone and not afraid to take a position that did not please a larger nation. We did it in 1984, when we declared ourselves nuclear free. I believe Prime Minister Jim Bolger might have on at least one occasion politely told Chinese officials getting annoyed with protesters nearby that they were entitled to be there and that he was not going to do anything about it. So, what is so hard about desisting recognizing a King who did little for his country and even less for that country’s human rights record?