Where were all the big rich militarized nations, like the USA and the UK, when Sweden was getting kicked around by Saudi Arabia?–kas
This story is told by Madeleine Rees, secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She is the former head of the Women’s Rights and Gender Unit for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, one of the things you’ve spoken about in this huge gathering at the World Forum in The Hague is the foreign minister of Sweden. Talk about what—the recent controversy around Margot Wallström.
MADELEINE REES: It’s interesting, because with Margot Wallström, we had what I thought was one of those moments in history when things should have shifted. For those who don’t know, she was speaking about Saudi Arabia and the treatment of a blogger, who was, as you may well recall, was sentenced to a thousand lashes for criticizing the regime. She said that this treatment was medieval, and she went on to denounce the lack of human rights for women in Saudi Arabia. She was saying no more or no less than we all say and most heads of states will say behind closed doors. But, of course, one doesn’t say that about Saudi Arabia because of the huge trading implications that there are.
As a result of her having made that denunciation—or that clarity, I would suggest—she was refused entry into the Arab League, where she was going to make a speech on human rights. And as a result, instead of just giving way, she went home, and she said, “OK, we will now cancel our cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia on all things military.” So they did that, and the response from the Saudis was to withdraw their ambassador, to impose visa restrictions on Swedes to go into Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League was going to follow suit. So there was uproar in Sweden amongst those who sought to trade with the Arab League. They were saying that—companies like H&M, Volvo, which shows just how easily the military is seen as a way of military—the sales of military equipment and others is seen as a way in for trade agreements, which then follow from that. So, by closing that door, they were afraid they were going to have the door closed on their trading agreements. And they tried to get the trade unions and others, saying, “This is going to lead to loss of jobs. It’s going to lead to the loss of trading possibilities for Sweden, more generally.” And Carl Bildt and others were wheeled out to say that it prejudiced Sweden’s attempt to get a position on the Security Council, as if standing up for human rights and for furthering the real hard law of the Arms Trade Treaty was actually something which the Security Council should not be responsible for.
So the backlash in Sweden from those interests was profound. But the support from the people was excellent. And I think that that was, for me, one of the greatest sadnesses of this, was every other foreign minister stayed silent. Instead of every foreign minister standing up and saying, “Actually, what Margot Wallström has just done is to assert international law, international human rights principles, and the dominance and predominance that we must give to the control of arms to countries where they subordinate human rights to their own interests.” Instead of doing that, there was this resounding silence, save for those who criticized her, and in a highly gendered way, to say that she was just being emotional, that she was naïve.