Further extraordinary developments
Last year we wrote to our local MP Mr John Glen to ask his government to be more assertive with the Saudi government in view of their appalling human rights record. This was prompted by the death penalty group which was concerned by the mounting tide of executions in that country. We received a bland reply from both Mr Glen and from Mr Tobias Ellwood of the Foreign Office (FCO) saying that behind the scenes, representations were being made.
No sooner had we posted details of the letters from the two politicians, when news was received of plans to drop the requirement of ministers to obey foreign treaties. Also, explicit reference to the abolition of the death penalty was removed from government policy. We have in previous blogs pointed to the continuing sale of arms to Saudi Arabia despite their role in the war in Yemen. Then came the astonishing news that British and American service personnel were present in the control centre for Saudi military actions.
All the while, the human rights record in Saudi remains dire and the year started with the mass execution of 47 people. When Mr Ellwood was asked in Parliament to condemn the mass execution he declined to do so. Today, we learn from the Independent newspaper that Mr Ellwood is reported in various Saudi and middle eastern newspapers as having urged Saudi Arabia to ‘do a better job at trumpeting its human rights successes’. He was addressing the Saudi Arabian National Society for Human Rights [an English version is available] in Riyadh and added that ‘British people were unaware of the notable progress being made.’ Many human rights groups have said that Mr Ellwood’s remarks are astonishing. FCO has denied that such remarks were made by him and the matter could easily be cleared up by publishing his speech.
Today, the Guardian newspaper published extracts from a leaked UN report into the airstrikes carried out by the Saudis on Yemen. The report said that:
…many of the attacks involved multiple civilian objects [and that] of the 119 sorties the panel identified 146 targeted objects. There were three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters.
So far, 5,800 people have been killed in the conflict. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition Mr Jeremy Corbyn asked the Prime Minister for an independent inquiry into the policy on arms exports to Saudi Arabia in view of the UN report. As the weeks have gone by, the drip, drip of revelations, the continued sale of arms to the Saudis, the presence of our military personnel in the control centre of the Saudi operations, our help in getting a Saudi to get onto the UN’s Human Rights Council, and speeches by a FCO minister, has painted a picture of complicity in a brutal conflict in Yemen and connivance in the politics of repression in Saudi itself.
From Mr Glen there has been silence. His column in the Salisbury Journal this week refers to the Maldives [YouTube] and his involvement and concern about human rights abuses there is of course to be welcomed and applauded. But when, we may ask, is he going to express concern about the much greater level of human rights violations and killings taking place in Saudi Arabia and Yemen?
Sources: The Independent; Belfast Telegraph; Amnesty International; Guardian