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The Human Rights Perspective

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Quite apart from the war in Yemen, the UK should not be selling arms to Saudi Arabia on account of its abysmal human rights record. On 21 July 2015, Jeremy Corbyn gave a very well informed speech on this subject in Westminster Hall:

Jeremy Corbyn
Saudi Arabia's appealing human rights record
21 July 2015

Persecution of Activists and Free Speakers

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Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 for writing a blog in which he challenged Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Saudi authorities deemed it insulting to Islam. He was charged with apostasy and has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. He received the first 50 lashes on 9 January 2015. In January and June 2015 his case was debated in the UK’s House of Commons. In February 2015, Prince Charles raised Raif Badawi’s case with Saudi’s new King Salman. On 7 June 2015, his sentence was upheld by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court. Raif remains in prison with 950 lashes still to go.

In its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UK is putting exports before ethics. It is also trusting in Saudi Arabia to feed us important intelligence to help us in our own battles with Islamic terrorists. However, if Saudi Arabia really valued its relationship with the UK, it wouldn’t shun personal interventions like that of Prince Charles to King Salman. The reality is that Saudi is in the relationship for what it can get from us. It doesn’t really give a damn about the UK.

Raif’s case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s abuses of human rights, as illustrated in an Amnesty International article entitled, ‘Saudi Arabia: 10 brutal facts beyond the Raif Badawi case’, or in The Independent’s article of 3 January 2016 entitled ’10 examples of human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia’. Let me illustrate some of the points raised in these articles.

Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws

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Saudi Arabia is ruled according to Sharia Law, and is one of 10 countries in which leaving or defaming Islam are crimes punishable by death. This is in direct contradiction with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.

Executions of Political Prisoners

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    Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent leader of Saudi’s Arabia’s Shia minority, was executed on 2 January 2016 for criticising the Saudi royal family. 46 others were executed on the same day.
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    Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’. The Saudi Arabian authorities claim that his poetry has questioned religion and spread atheism. Sign a petition demanding his release
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    Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was 16 or 17 years old when he was arrested in 2012 for participation in the Arab Spring protests. He was sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion, and could be executed at any time.
  • According to Amnesty International:

    ‘More than 2,000 people were executed in Saudi Arabia between 1985 and 2013. At least 22 people were put to death between 4 and 22 August 2014 alone – more than one every day. The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is used in violation of international human rights law and standards. Trials in capital cases are often held in secret and defendants rarely have access to lawyers. People may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture, other ill-treatment or deception. Non-lethal crimes including “adultery”, armed robbery, “apostasy”, drug-related offences, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery” are punishable by death. Three people under 18 were executed in 2013, and so far in 2014 one has been sentenced to death, in blatant violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In some cases, the relatives of those on death row are not notified of the executions in advance.Foreign nationals represent a disproportionate number of those executed, largely because of inadequate legal representation and translation support. Almost half of the 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2013 were foreign nationals.People with mental disabilities are not spared the death sentence. Most executions are by beheading. Many take place in public. In some cases, decapitated bodies are left hanging in public squares as a “deterrent”. ‘

Women’s Rights

  • Manal Al-Sharif was one of the founders of the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world that bans women from driving. In this 2012 interview, she speaks about women’s rights in the country.
  • On 12 December 2015, Women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to vote for the first time in municipal elections. This is a big step, but nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has a very long way to go when it comes to gender equality.
  • As well as not being able to drive, here are 10 more things a woman in Saudi Arabia cannot do, according to The Week magazine. They cannot:
    1. Go anywhere without a chaperone
    2. Wear clothes or make-up that ‘show off their beauty’
    3. Interact with men
    4. Go for a swim
    5. Compete freely in sports
    6. Try on clothes when shopping
    7. Enter a cemetery
    8. Read an uncensored fashion magazine
    9. Buy a Barbie.
    10. Open a bank account without a husband’s permission.
    All in all, women face appalling restrictions on their freedom. And young girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men.

Banning of Public Gatherings

All public gatherings, including demonstrations, remain prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those who defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.

Intolerance of Religious Minorities

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    In 2012, Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region." The Grand Mufti is appointed by the state and is Saudi’s highest religious authority. It is as if the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken. Saudi Arabia doesn’t actually have any churches as it doesn’t allow them, but he was encouraging a Kuwaiti delegation that churches should be destroyed in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • The previous Pope, Benedict XVI repeatedly urged the Muslim world to show “reciprocity”, that Muslim countries should allow Christians to build churches and worship freely just as Christian countries allow Muslims to build mosques and practice Islam. The above video shows a sermon given by popular Saudi Sheikh, Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, in which he explains Saudi Arabia’s arrogant and intolerant attitude to this idea.

The UK’s Dirty Deal with Saudi Arabia on Human Rights

As a plumber, I fix a lot of dirty toilets. But none quite as dirty as the UK’s secret deal with Saudi Arabia on human rights. Ahead of a November 2013 vote in New York for seats on the UN human rights council (UNHRC), Britain and Saudi Arabia secretly agreed to vote for each other, according to documents released by Wikileaks (see report by The Independent). When pressed on the subject, David Cameron could not deny it (see the above video), but justified it on the basis of Britain’s national security interests.

Is Britain really such a weak and weedy nation that we have to show such an appalling lack of integrity in order to save our own backs? Should we really appoint the biggest playground bully to be prefect on playground duty? David Cameron may be happy to compromise our integrity in order for the UK to receive occasional tidbits of intelligence from King Salman’s table. But if we are to be Saudi Arabia’s poodle, we should be under no illusions as to our status in the relationship. Arabs have a very low opinion of dogs!

It is because of countries like Saudi Arabia that people need the protection of the UN human rights council!

As if a seat on the human rights council wasn’t bad enough, in 2015 Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador Faisal bin Hassan Trad was selected to become Chair of the Human Rights Council panel on choosing UN rights experts (see photo below).
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Are we mad? Or have we just sold ours souls to the god of imports and exports?

Prior to the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 2 October 2015, the Netherlands put forward a draft resolution that would have mandated a UN mission to investigate and document human rights abuses committed by all sides in the Yemen conflict. Eventually, they withdrew it under intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and due to insufficient support from the USA and the UK. So it was squashed by The Immoral Threesome, with Saudi herself sitting in pride of place as chair of the human rights council panel. Human Rights Watch entitled their report on this fiasco, ‘UN: Rights Council Fails Yemeni Citizens - Saudi Pressure Derails Bid for International Inquiry’.

On a more positive note, later in October 2015, Justice Secretary Michael Gove succeeded in pulling the plug on a UK bid to supply prison services to Saudi Arabia, saying the government should not be assisting a regime that uses beheadings, stoning, crucifixions and lashings to punish its citizens. Allegedly, his position was opposed by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond who warned that cancelling it would not be in the national interest as it would make Britain appear an untrustworthy ally. Apparently No 10 sided with Hammond, but fortunately Gove got his way. Well done Michael! And well done to Jeremy Corbyn for his opposition to the deal. Just imagine if the UK had been supplying prison services to a regime that imprisons and executes anyone who opens their mouth to criticise the regime!

Call by Human Rights Watch to UN:
'Suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council'
29 June 2016

On 16 July 2016, UK government ministers refused to rule out voting for Saudi Arabia to be re-elected to the UN human rights council.

Saudi Arabia re-elected - Russia loses UN Human Rights Council Seat
29 October 2016

UK Defence

In my humble opinion, there is a reason the UK is so fearful of its own defence that is relies on abusive regimes like Saudi Arabia for its own protection. In 1994, defence spending accounted for 3.4% of UK GDP. By 1999 this had fallen to 2.6%, and in 2015 it was 2.1%.

The UK defence industry has attempted to plug the gap in domestic sales by stepping up exports, mostly to the Middle East and especially to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia now has twice as many British-made warplanes as Britain’s own RAF.

And the UK government hopes that it can rely on these nations to help protect the UK. As the UK’s own defence gets weaker and weaker, we become more and more dependant on other nations to protect us.

It is time to stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia.

And perhaps it is time to increase our own defence budget. Severe cutbacks made to the defence budget by the Coalition Government in 2010 mean the RAF has struggled to send Tornados to fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. According to Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, former head of the RAF, “To mount a campaign for a lengthy period of time, as the Saudis are doing in Yemen, you need to have a lot of aircraft and a lot of aircrew to fly them, and we simply do not have those sorts of numbers because of the budget cuts.” He also said, “The current situation puts the UK at risk from attack by Russia at a time when relations are increasingly frayed with Vladimir Putin's nation. I very much doubt whether the UK could sustain a shooting war against Russia. We are at half the capabilities we had previously.”

If Britain were ever attacked by Russia, do you think Saudi Arabia would come to our aid? Not likely!
Who Will Speak Out?
Here in the UK, Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is probably the most prominent and outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record (see the video of his speech on 21 July 2015 at the top of this page).

Also a prominent voice in the Labour party is Stephen Twigg, MP for Liverpool West Derby, and chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee. On my Parliament page, you can watch videos of his committee's investigations on 27 January 2016 into alleged human rights violations by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and read his report dated 2 February 2016.
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Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, is another politician who has spoken out about the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, in relation both to human rights violations and to arms sales. So the leaders of both of the main opposition parties are in favour of a ban on UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
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But it is going to take multiple voices to make the government listen on this issue. Please see guidance on my Petitions page as to how you can write to your MP about it.
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In March 2015, Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, denounced Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, and also called on Sweden to stop arms sales to Saudi. Saudi Arabia responded by withdrawing its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The Gulf Co-operation Council joined in the response and condemned her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’. Sadly, Margot Wallstrom didn’t get a lot of support from the rest of Sweden. Speaking the truth is fine, as long as it doesn’t affect your business and exports.

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Website designed and written by Hamish Erskine
© 2016 Hamish Erskine
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