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Seven countries abstained in UN vote on Saudi Arabia

Updated tisdag 2 maj kl 15.05
Published tisdag 2 maj kl 11.22
Profile shot of Margot Wallström
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström will not reveal if Sweden abstained or voted yes to Saudi Arabia on the women's rights commission. Credit: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Seven countries abstained when a UN council voted on giving Saudi Arabia a place on the UN women's rights commission, the Swedish Foreign Ministry has confirmed. But it does not reveal whether Sweden was among them.

The Swedish government, with its proclaimed "feminist foreign policy", has been under pressure to reveal how Sweden voted when the UN elected Saudi Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in April. In a comment, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has said that they will not reveal this, as it was a secret ballot. Her press secretary did however note that the normal practice is to accept the nominations made by different regions, and that Sweden generally follows this practice.

On Tuesday, the daily Svenska Dagbladet published a story based on written answers from the Foreign Ministry on how many voted in favour and against Saudi Arabia's nomination, and how many countries abstained.

Out of the 54 member states in the Ecosoc council, where the vote was carried out, 47 countries voted in favour and 7 abstained. The Ministry later clarified that voting no was not a possible option, but would not reveal whether Sweden voted yes or abstained.

Considering the status of women in Saudi Arabia, there has been strong criticism, not only in Sweden, against the decision to elect it as a representative on the Commission on the status of Women. The human rights organisation UN Watch has called it "absurd", and in Sweden, the leader of the Liberal party said that it would mean a "collapse for the feminist foreign policy" if it turns out that Sweden voted in favour of Saudi Arabia joining the commission. After the vote, Belgium's prime minister has said that he "regrets" that his country voted in favour, blaming it on "a regrettable diplomatic mix-up".

In its reply to Svenska Dagbladet, the Swedish Foreign Ministry writes that the region of Asia nominated five countries for the five seats allocated to Asia in the women's commission: Irak, South Korea, Japan, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia. And with that the outcome was pretty much decided.

"Nominations are done through the regional groups to ensure that all regions are represented in different committees... This normally results, like it did in this case, in the same number of candidates as there are available seats. That is why the groups proposals are adopted," wrote the Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

The vote took place on the 19th of April, when a range of other nominations to various commissions and panels were voted on. Only when it came to the vote on the nominations for the women's rights commission was there a move to make it a secret ballot. This happened "at short notice" according to Margot Wallström, Svenska Dagbladet reports.

The countries elected for the UN Commission on the Status of Women will stay in their seats for four years, 2018-2022. Saudi Arabia will be one out of 45 countries on the commission.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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