Britain and the Saudis: allies in atrocities
Thursday 14th January 2016
PRIME Minister David Cameron’s government can claim absolute consistency in just one policy: towering, jaw-dropping hypocrisy.
They follow in Tony Blair and his tantrum-prone, nail-biting successor, Gordon Brown’s footsteps as they attempt to market potential war crimes and illegal assaults as democracy-bringing, despot-vanquishing acts of mercy.
Recent events have again highlighted their contempt for human life, human rights and international law.
On Saturday January 3 Saudi Arabia announced it had executed 47 people.
Last September Saudi Arabia was elected chair of the UN human rights council panel that appoints independent experts, due (according to the Guardian) to Britain’s “secret vote-trading deals with Saudis to ensure both states were elected to the [council], according to leaked diplomatic cables.”
This was “after Riyadh sanctioned more than a hundred beheadings so far [in 2015] — more, it is claimed, than Islamic State [ISIS].”
So much for the integrity of the British and UN institutions.
According to legal action charity Reprieve, the: “executions took place in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading. The bodies were then hanged from gibbets in the most severe form of punishment available in the kingdom’s law.”
Amnesty International is specific: “The death penalty breaches two essential human rights: the right to life and the right to live free from torture. Both rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948.”
Reprieve has now updated executions in Saudi Arabia for 2015 to “at least” 158 people. Among 2015 highlights of the country’s justice system include a 19-year-old woman gang-raped by seven men, subjected to 200 lashes and jailed for six months. Moreover, her lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahem was banned and had his professional licence revoked.
The response to this barbarism from Britain, which has enjoined in the destruction of the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria in the last two decades in the name of freeing citizens from “regimes” who “kill their own people,” was expressed by Foreign Office Minister Tobias Elwood as “disappointment.”
Invited on the BBC’s Today programme on January 8 to condemn the primitive inhumanity of the executions, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond declined, faithfully echoing Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by stating that those shot, beheaded and hung from gibbets were “terrorists.”
As Reprieve has pointed out, “of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia in 2015, the vast majority — 72 per cent — were convicted of non-lethal offenses … while torture and forced ‘confessions’ were frequently reported.”
Further: “Far from being ‘terrorists,’ at least four of those killed were arrested after protests calling for reform — and were convicted in shockingly unfair trials. The Saudi government is clearly using the death penalty, alongside torture and secret courts, to punish political dissent.
“By refusing to condemn these executions and parroting the Saudis’ propaganda, labeling those killed as ‘terrorists’, Mr Hammond is coming dangerously close to condoning Saudi Arabia’s approach.”
He was not alone. UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon was merely “dismayed,” on the day of the mass murders, however when the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters enraged at the killing of respected cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Ban “deplored the violence.”
Masonry clearly has far higher value than mortality at UN headquarters.
Four days later when the Saudis were accused of an attempt to bomb the Iranian embassy in Yemen and dropping (US-made) cluster munitions in a populated area, Ban ignored the embassy attack and was merely “troubled” and expressed “concern” about the latter, in spite of saying that “use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime due to their indiscriminate nature.” Britain was blind, deaf and mute.
US President Barack Obama’s spokesman referred to a “list of concerns” regarding Saudi Arabia’s shooting and head-chopping rampage, confirming gently that “mass executions would rate highly in that list of concerns.”
For most in the real world it would “rate highly” in horror, outrage and unequivocal condemnation with immediate imposition of draconian trade and travel sanctions and withdrawal of diplomatic missions as has been meted out to countries for considerably lesser outrages, indeed even imagined ones, think Iraq and “weapons of mass destruction.” The White House was though also very exercised by the “violent” attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Well it would be. Forget concerns about tyrants who “kill their own people.” Last November alone the US administration approved a $1.29 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. This was despite concerns about the country’s interference in Yemen.
Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) points out that it is “illegal under US and international law to transfer weapons to human rights abusers, or to forces that will likely use it to commit gross violations of human rights.”
Moreover, “there is documented evidence that such abuses have been committed by almost all US allies in the region.”
According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), “David Cameron has overseen £5.6bn of military licences” to Saudi Arabia.
CAAT demands that due to the “mass executions and bombing of Yemen, the UK must stop arming Saudi Arabia,” which it says is by far the largest buyer of British arms licences included fighter jets, tear gas, military vehicles and targeting equipment. Sixty-two per cent of British adults oppose the sales.
CAAT’s Andrew Smith states: “The Saudi regime has a history of locking up bloggers, executing critics and cracking down on dissent. Despite this they can always rely on getting almost uncritical support from countries like Britain that prioritise arms company profits over human rights.”
Smith emphasises that British “bombs and fighter jets have been central to the destruction of Yemen. As long as Saudi Arabia enjoys the political and military support of the most powerful Western nations, then it will continue oppressing its own population and those of neighbouring states.”
The British government may though at least finally be held to account, hopefully setting a precedent.
Lawyers working for CAAT have called for a judicial review challenging the government’s decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia.
A letter sent to the government has asked Business Secretary Sajid Javid to comment within 14 days on whether it will:
– Agree to suspend licences for the export of military equipment and technology to Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen pending the outcome of a full review.
– Agree not to grant further licences for the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia pending the completion of such a review.
Rosa Curling of law firm Leigh Day, representing CAAT, said: “The UK government is under a clear legal obligation to ensure any military equipment and/or technology exported from this country to another, is not being used in breach of international humanitarian law.
“Given the widespread and credible evidence that the Saudi authorities are breaching their international obligations in Yemen, we can see no credible basis upon which the UK government can lawfully continue to export arms to them.
“We hope our client’s letter will cause the government to reconsider its position and suspend all licences with immediate effect, pending a proper investigation into the issue.”
Those executed or threatened with death in Saudi jails were not, of course, waging war against Allah. Some were simply availing themselves of the human right to write, blog and protest in the country of a Western ally — a West which, with the UN, shames all in its selective attitude to humanity and human rights.
UK’s soft diplomacy approach to Saudi Arabia is not enough, say families of juveniles still on death row. Exclusive: Families of three juveniles on Saudi death row say nothing has changed and they still have ‘the sword over their necks’, despite apparent UK intervention: here.