UN: Saudi Arabia slams Norway on human rights

UN: Saudi Arabia slams Norway on human rights
Norway's human rights record came in for sharp criticism during a UN hearing on Monday, with Saudi Arabia and Russia weighing in to highlight the country's shortcomings.

Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries accused Norway of doing too little to protect its Muslim minority, with Saudi Arabia calling for all criticism of religions or their prophets to be made illegal.

Meanwhile, Russia accused the country of allowing extremist groups to "operate freely" and of moving too quickly to separate children from their parents.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende was in Geneva on Monday to respond to criticisms from no fewer than 91 other country's during a session of the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review, under which UN members take turns to go under scrutiny.

Before Monday's hearing, Brende conceded to Norway's NTB newswire that many of the countries collected together to criticise Norway themselves hardly had spotless human rights records.

"It is a paradox that countries which do not support fundamental human rights have influence on the council, but that is the United Nations," he said.

Human Rights Watch's latest report on Saudi Arabia noted that in 2012 the country had "stepped up arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents, and responded with force to demonstrations by citizens."

"Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls and nine million foreign workers," it continued. "As in past years, thousands of people have received unfair trials or been subject to arbitrary detention. The year has seen trials against half-a-dozen human rights defenders and several others for their peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms."

The Netherlands and Italy also criticised Norway for the long periods crime suspects spend in police custody and pre-trial detention, with more than 40 percent of those arrested spending longer than the 48 hour maximum recommended by the United Nations.

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