Republican presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia on Saturday, citing the Gulf Kingdom’s long history of appalling human rights abuses.
He compared Saudi Arabia to apartheid South Africa and suggested that similar tactics should be used to pressure Saudi Arabia into changing its policies.
Senator Paul spoke about a Saudi rape case from a few years ago in which a woman who was gang-raped but received 90 lashes when she reported it for the crime of being in a car with a man she wasn’t married to.
Paul argued, “This is something we should be organizing a boycott of. Do you remember how when South Africa was misbehaving, we organized a boycott of South Africa? We should be boycotting Saudi Arabia, not taking money from Saudi Arabia's government.”
A spokesman for Senator Paul later clarified that he was “not calling for a governmental boycott, but rather options for private citizens and investors.”
The case he was referring to took place in 2006, where a 19 year old was raped 14 times by a gang of seven men. Although her rapists were sentenced to between 10 months and 5 years each, she was given a sentence of 90 lashes, as she had breached Saudi rules on gender segregation.
A judge later raised that to 200 lashes after she appealed, on the grounds that she was trying to “aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”
After a media outcry the late King Abdullah issued her a royal pardon in 2007.
Paul attacked what he described as Saudi Arabia’s "War on Women." In an interview with a local television station in New Hampshire on Friday he said “They say there’s a war on women. Well, yeah — there is in Saudi Arabia. You can be raped in Saudi Arabia, and they put you in jail. You can be raped in Saudi Arabia and they publicly lash you and whip you for being raped."
Women are forbidden from driving in Saudi Arabia, but that is only one of the many restrictions imposed on women. There is no civil code, all laws are derived from judicial interpretations of sharia and the autocratic decrees of the king, who is an absolute monarch.
The system of male guardianship, which prevents women from working, travelling and studying among other things without the permission of her closest male relative, is perhaps the most restrictive. Effectively it treats women as legal minors, which women’s rights activist Dr Elham Manea described as ‘gender apartheid.'
In the interview, Paul went on to attack Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton for taking money for her charitable foundation from governments including Saudi Arabia which do not protect women’s rights. He continued, "So Hillary Clinton needs to explain why she’s taking money from foreign countries that abuse the rights of women, and frankly I think today she should announce that she’s going to give the money back.”
As The New York Times reported, “The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei — all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.”
Senator Paul is not the only one challenging Saudi Arabia on its human rights record.
Sweden cancelled a multi-million dollar arms contract after calling Saudi Arabia a "dictatorship" and criticizing the ongoing treatment of dissidents by the regime. In particular Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom castigated King Salman’s regime for flogging liberal blogger Raif Badawi.
Germany also cancelled arms shipments to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, citing concerns over where the weaponry would end up.