Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category


The Court of Appeal has granted permission for Campaign Against the Arms Trade to appeal the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The destruction of Yemen continues and our role in that destruction becomes ever more clear as time passes.  The case brought by CAAT failed and it is welcome news that the Appeal Court has allowed an appeal.  The decision was profoundly flawed and needs to be challenged.  It raised disturbing questions, not just about our role in the bombing of Yemen, but how our supposedly independent legal system operates in cases like this.

An analysis of the decision by Oxford Human Rights hub and others revealed profound flaws in the Appeal judges ruling and handling of the case.  These are:

  • statements by the government were taken at face value despite claims that the case would be looked at objectively
  • the judges regarded evidence from NGOs as necessarily being of lesser value than the government’s arguments.  They said they were ‘second hand’ despite the fact that the NGOs had representatives on the ground and had collected considerable first hand evidence of what was happening
  • the close relations the government has with the Saudi government (to which we could add many members of the Royal family) puts them in a good position, it was claimed, to take statements by the Saudis at face value namely that they were compliant with International Human Rights standards
  • the court took no account of the stake the government has in the trade namely that 46% of our arms exports are going to this country.  That this might bias their case was not something that the judges seemed to consider.  Indeed, they went further pointing to the ‘highly sophisticated, structured and multi-faceted process’ of government decision taking in comparison with that of the press and NGOs.  Altogether, the judges exhibited an unduly deferential approach to the government
  • But perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of their judgement was the issue of ‘inference’.  This argument centred on the idea that it was not necessary or practical for the government to infer that civilian causalities and breaches of IHL arose from the supply of weaponry to the Saudis.  Because this destruction was taking place in another country, it was not practical for the Secretary of State to have access to all the relevant information.  So on the one hand, the judges say that the government has a superior and sophisticated decision making process compared to that of the NGOs and media, but on the other hand, when civilians are killed, suddenly they are not in a position to know it was our weapons which were involved.

There are other criticisms of the judgment and the dubious logic on which it was based.  Overall, they seemed to adopt a unduly deferential approach to the government’s position.

In another development the Committee on Arms Export Controls criticized many aspects of the government’s dealings with arms supplies to the region.  One key aspect is the question of brokerage.  This is where a company, registered in the UK, uses a broker to circumvent the controls on the sale of arms.  The Committee concluded:

The Committees conclude that it is a significant loophole in UK arms export controls that a UK company can circumvent those controls by exporting military and dual–use goods using an overseas subsidiary. The Committees recommend that the Government states whether it will close this loophole, and, if so, by what means and in what timescale.

The Committees continue to conclude that it is most regrettable that the Government have still to take any action against “Brass Plate” arms exporting companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK Government policies. 35 The Committees’ Recommendation: The Committees again recommend that the Government sets out in its Response to this Report what steps it will take to discontinue the UK registration of such companies  [Extracts from the Select Committee Report]

The government does not accept the committee’s conclusions on this matter.

In yet another aspect, the government is alleged to use opaque licensing procedures to conceal hundreds of millions of pounds worth of British-made missiles and bombs sold to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen under a licensing system that makes tracking arms sales more difficult.

Currently, the sale of arms is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.  It is clear from the opinion of the sub committee, CAAT and other NGOs that the government is using every stratagem to sell arms to Saudi and to keep on doing so.  Royalty and ministers are pressed into service to keep the Saudi regime sweet.  The effects of our arms – and those of other arms suppliers such as the USA – on the people of Yemen has been devastating.  With 10,000 deaths and many more thousands injured and displaced, it is a calamity on a massive scale.  We must hope that the higher court will overturn the highly dubious and flawed decision.

In the future, post Brexit,  there will be a reduction in the degree of control over this trade in the opinion of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  In a commentary they say:

Either way, it is likely that Brexit will lead to a reduction in the EU’s ability to promote its standards in the field of export controls internationally. […]  If Brexit means the UK starts to water down its export controls in order to facilitate transfers to Saudi Arabia, or otherwise boost its arms exports, the implications may be more severe. Such a move could trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ among EU member states, many of which are seeking to boost their own arms exports in order to help domestic producers offset the impact of post-2008 national defence cuts.

Let us hope they are wrong.  It is likely however that post Brexit, there will be a keen desire to secure trade deals – to include arms sales – with any foreign nation including those with poor human rights records.

Sources:

Oxford Human Rights Hub; Ibid (part 2); Opinio Juris; CAAT; The Guardian; Amnesty International; European Journal of International Law

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Executions and torture still continuing in Saudi Arabia

The number of executions in Saudi Arabia is rising and we are gravely concerned for the people on death row there. The authorities have executed 52 people this year already, and nearly 600 since 2014.

Right now, eighteen young people could be beheaded at any time for the ‘crime’ of protesting against the Saudi government.  Some were sentenced to death for attending protests when they were children.  All were brutally tortured.

The UK government continues to prioritize the sale of arms despite the manifest human rights abuses and the bombing of civilians in Yemen. 

Reprieve currently have a petition and if you have time to sign it, every little helps.


Crown Prince Signals Possible Limit on Non-Murder Executions

Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people since the beginning of 2018, half of them for nonviolent drug crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Many more people convicted of drug crimes remain on death row following convictions by Saudi Arabia’s notoriously unfair criminal justice system.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said in an interview with Time magazine on April 5 that the Saudi authorities have a plan to decrease the number of executions, but that they would not limit executions to people convicted of murder. Nearly all executions in Saudi Arabia that are not for murder are for non-violent drug crimes.  The prince said the country would consider changing the penalty from death to life in prison in some cases, but not in murder cases.

It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia executes so many people, but many of them have not committed a violent crime, said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Any plan to limit drug executions needs to include improvements to a justice system that doesn’t provide for fair trials.

Saudi Arabia has carried out nearly 600 executions since the beginning of 2014, over 200 of them in drug cases.  The vast majority of the remainder were for murder, but other offenses included rape, incest, terrorism, and “sorcery.” In Saudi Arabia, death sentences for murder are usually based on the Islamic law principle qisas, or eye-for-an-eye retributive punishment, while judges hand down death sentences for drugs at their own discretion (the Islamic law principle ta’zir). Judges rely on a 1987 fatwa by the country’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars prescribing the death penalty for any “drug smuggler” who brings drugs into the country, as well as provisions of the 2005 Law on Combatting Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which prescribes the death penalty for drug smuggling.  The law allows for mitigated sentences in limited circumstances.

International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person is intentionally killed and not used to punish drug-related offenses.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which Saudi courts sentenced defendants to death following unfair trials. In one such case, a Saudi court sentenced a Jordanian man, Waleed al-Saqqar, to death in December 2014 for smuggling drugs across the Saudi border from Jordan in his truck.

Poor trials process

The judgment following al-Saqqar’s trial reveals that the trial lasted only one day, and a source with direct knowledge of the case told Human Rights Watch that the entire trial lasted about five minutes. The source said that a judge asked al-Saqqar to confirm his identity and state whether the truck belonged to him, then issued the death sentence. Al-Saqqar did not have a defense lawyer.  The source said that the judge did not allow al-Saqqar a chance to explain the circumstances, which he viewed as a mitigating factor.  The source said that in April 2013 al-Saqqar met a Saudi man at the Jordanian Free Zone near Zarqa city who offered to pay him 300,000 Saudi Riyals (US$80,000) to smuggle several bags of agricultural hormones to Saudi Arabia.  The Saudi man said that his workers were urgently waiting for them and would need them before he could get permission from the Saudi Heath and Agricultural Ministries to legally import them. Al-Saqqar agreed to the arrangement.

On April 11, 2013, Saudi authorities stopped al-Saqqar after he entered Saudi Arabia from Jordan at the al-Haditha border crossing and searched the truck.  According to the trial judgment, the authorities discovered 144,000 pills identified as captagon (fenethylline), a banned substance in Saudi Arabia. According to the official judgment al-Saqqar assisted Saudi authorities in an attempt to locate and apprehend the person inside Saudi Arabia responsible for receiving the drugs, but authorities were not able to apprehend him.  The source said that the case remains on appeal.

Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that makes it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases.  In cases Human Rights Watch has analyzed, authorities did not always inform suspects of the charges against them or allow them access to evidence, even after trial sessions began.  Authorities generally did not allow lawyers to assist suspects during interrogation and often impeded them from examining witnesses and presenting evidence at trial. The problems were compounded for non-Arabic speaking foreigners, who in the absence of a lawyer face overwhelming obstacles to understanding court procedures and submitting defence documents.

The Death Penalty Worldwide Database, which collects information on executions across the globe, shows that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world and applies the death penalty to a range of offenses that do not constitute “most serious crimes,” including drug offenses, adultery, sorcery, and apostasy. Saudi Arabia trails only Iran in the Middle East in in the number of its executions.  Saudi Arabia regularly features in our monthly reports.

Human Rights Watch along with Amnesty, opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.  In 2013, following similar resolutions in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the UN General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also called on countries to abolish the death penalty.

Text from Human Rights Watch – 24 April 2018


A further 15 men face imminent execution in Saudi Arabia

Only a few days ago, we highlighted the case of fourteen men who face imminent execution.  Today we publish a further urgent action as Saudi is about to execute another 15 individuals.  The families of the accused have just discovered that the higher court has upheld the lower court’s ruling without the prisoners themselves or their lawyers knowing about it.

They were accused of high treason together with other unrecognisable offences including ‘supporting protests’ and ‘spreading the Shi’a faith.’  They were held incommunicado for nearly three months and denied access to lawyers.  Their families were threatened with arrest if they did not sign confessions.

The system in Saudi is contrary to all international norms and shows no sign of improvement.  Yet despite this we continue to supply the country with arms on a huge scale.

The Foreign and Colonial Office has just published its 2o16 report on human rights and on Saudi it says the following (extract)

… We also remain deeply concerned about the application of the death penalty.  Amnesty International reported that 153 people had been executed in 2016, compared to 158 people in 2015.  This included the simultaneous execution of 47 people on 2 January 2016.  On 5 January, the then FCO Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Tobias Ellwood, made a statement to Parliament reiterating our clear position on the death penalty.  As the principle of the death penalty is enshrined in Saudi Arabia’s Sharia law, total abolition in the near future is unlikely.  We continued to ensure that the Saudi authorities are aware of our strong opposition to the death penalty at the most senior levels.

… In 2017, we will continue to work to limit the application of the death penalty; and to ensure that, if it is applied, it is carried out in line with international minimum standards.  We will continue to monitor closely cases which relate to freedom of expression and of religion or belief.  We will also look for opportunities to promote greater participation by civil society and by women in Saudi public life.  (p 49)

Fine words but somewhat undermined by continuing high level contact, visits by members of the Royal Family and government ministers keen to promote the continued sale of weapons.

If you do get time to write that would be appreciated.  Alternatively, if you go to our Twitter page on this and click ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ that would help.

Urgent Action (pdf)


If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to join then the simplest thing is to come to one of our events and make yourself known.  These can be found here, on our Twitter or Facebook pages – salisburyai.

 


Fourteen men are a risk of execution in Saudi Arabia

The families of the men discovered that these men are at risk of execution a few days ago as a result of the secretive nature of the Saudi justice system.  Due to the lack of information surrounding the judicial process in Saudi Arabia, it is only when the families of some of the men finally managed to get through to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on 23 July by phone, that they learned the sentences of their relatives had been upheld.  This means that the 14 men could be executed as soon as the King ratifies the sentences.  The ratification process is secretive and could happen at any time.  On 15 July, the 14 men were transferred to the capital Riyadh without prior notice.

As is quite common in that country, torture may have been used to extract confessions.

Full details are below and we hope readers will find time to write or email to the Saudi authorities.

In previous posts we have drawn attention to the British government’s role in supporting this regime despite its horrific human rights record and its activities in bombing and blockading the Yemen.

Urgent Action: Saudi

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The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law.  The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.

We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country.  These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate.  10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis.  CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.

Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:

The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.

It further concluded:

Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern.  There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.

A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.

If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.

An Amnesty International spokesman said:

The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes.  This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations.  James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)

It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision.  True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know.  But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts.  And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country.  A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.

Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far.  They are the tail that wags the dog.

Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country.  We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.


Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN

 

 

 

 


Good news on cluster bombs
Just before the Christmas holidays, the Government finally admitted that Saudi Arabia had indeed dropped UK cluster bombs in its bombing campaign in Yemen and in doing so, confirmed that our research was entirely correct.  When we alerted the UK government to this in May 2016, the Government strongly denied it, as did Saudi Arabia. This is a major victory for our research work and campaigning to keep the government under pressure on this issue. 

Amnesty joined with 100s of other organisations around the world to campaign to ban cluster bombs because of the risks they pose to civilians.  Cluster bombs scatter 100s of lethal bomblets that can continue to kill and cause horrific injuries long after the conflict has ended.  The UK rightly banned these horrific weapons and their use in Yemen provides yet more evidence of indiscriminate nature of the Saudi Arabian led coalition’s bombing campaign.

From Amnesty briefingcluster bombs


 The war in Yemen (again)

UPDATE: 21 August

Full page article in the Observer newspaper on the subject of arms sales to Yemen.

In many previous posts we have drawn attention to the war in Yemen which receives far less coverage than events in Syria.  In particular, we have drawn attention to the role of the UK government in supporting the Saudis with weapons, political cover and providing – quite shamefully – British service personnel to advise them on the military activities.  We wrote last year to our local MP John Glen who replied with a bland letter from a Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood which began to unwind in the following weeks.

We have also highlighted the role of British arms suppliers and the many billions of pounds of weaponry which has gone to the Saudis to enable them to continue the bombing campaign in Yemen.  Bombing has been indiscriminate and hospitals; mosques; weddings and schools have been targeted.

The FCO has now admitted that its responses have been less than honest in a statement slipped out on the last day of parliament.  The claim that human rights law was not being breached is now no longer claimed only that they were not being assessed.

Picture: Middle East online

So our involvement in the Yemen conflict has been shameful in the extreme and the fact that Britain is profiting from it as well only makes matters worse.  The government has been lucky in the world has been distracted by Syria and Yemen only appears in the news now and again with little sign of media traction.

A leader article in the Guardian on 18 August, set out again many of the points it and others have been making over the last year or so.  It points out that we have licensed £3.3bn (yes that’s BILLION) of weapon sales to Saudi over the past year alone according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.  The cost to the Yemenis has been immense with 6,500 dead and 2.5 million displaced.  Save the Children point out that one in three of under-fives suffers malnutrition.  The World Bank; UN and EU agencies estimate £14bn of damage to the economy.  And so on and so on.  We and the US are the main culprits in terms of support and arms sales yet there is no sign of an end to the conflict.  The Saudis are apparently pretty hopeless in their bombing activities despite the help they get from our service personnel.

But – there is a glimmer of good news with CAAT winning the right to a judicial review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The government has resisted this naturally enough but CAAT has won through.

The UK government – with the USA – has helped support terrible humanitarian and economic damage on this country.  It has behaved less than honestly.  When and if the conflict ends there will be need to carry out massive reconstruction.  Once again we have been involved in destabilising a country with little thought to the aftermath.  Parliamentary scrutiny has been lamentable.


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War in Yemen

For most of this year we have been commenting on the war in Yemen and the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  We wrote to the Salisbury MP John Glen, who replied enclosing a bland statement from the Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  We have noted the government’s activities in getting the Saudi’s onto the UN’s Human Rights Council and the continued supply of arms to the Saudis despite their use in Yemen on civilian targets, schools and medical facilities.  We have also noted the steady softening of policies to make it easier – it is believed – for arms companies to ply their trade.  The Telegraph reported in an article in February, the difference between Syria and Yemen.  In the former country, bombing of a MSF hospital led to outrage by press and politicians in the UK:  by contrast, bombing of MSF hospitals in Yemen is greeted by a deafening silence :

Alas, this is not merely about Western indifference but about complicity and collusion. Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This was a unique opportunity to hold all sides of the conflict accountable for their actions. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to investigate itself through its own internal commission.  (24 Feb 2016)

Then, on Thursday 21st July when parliament rose, there was a curious statement issued by the FCO.  It has been forced to retract numerous written and oral statements to parliament which said ministers had assessed that Saudi Arabia was not in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

The admission led to calls by the Liberal Democrats for an investigation into Saudi behaviour in Yemen and a suspension of UK arms sales.  The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the Saudi military campaign has targeted civilians.  We also drew attention in a previous blog to the presence of British service personnel in Saudi control rooms.  The Foreign Office said the incorrect statements – made by three different ministers, some as far back as six months ago – were errors and did not represent an attempt to mislead MPs over its assessment of the Saudi campaign.

It stressed that other written answers had made clear that the UK government had made no assessment of whether the Saudis were in breach of humanitarian law.

The last day of parliament is a favourite time to slip out inconvenient statements since there is no time for questions or debate to take place.  The FCO simply said it had been reviewing the correspondence.

The government is facing a court case arguing that it should ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The Guardian newspaper said:

In its written answer published on Thursday, the Foreign Office said written answers in February 2016 had stated: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition.” The correction said these should have stated: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

The Foreign Office also corrected a written answer by the then foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who stated on 4 January 2016: “I regularly review the situation with my own advisers and have discussed it on numerous occasions with my Saudi counterpart. Our judgment is that there is no evidence that IHL has been breached, but we shall continue to review the situation regularly.”

This is something of a volt face and to issue such a statement on the last day of parliament is shameful.  It achieved its object however with next to no media coverage.  Why does it matter?  We are currently suffering a severe threat from ISIS with a recent outrage in Nice said to be inspired by the group.  Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen, supported by US and UK weapons, personnel and political cover, provide an ideal recruiting ground for this terrorist group.  At present all eyes are on Syria but how long will it be before our activities in Yemen come under the spotlight?


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Saudi Arabia has successful blackmailed the UN to remove itself from a blacklist

Source: youthhealthmag.com

Human rights groups around the world have condemned the decision by the U.N. to remove Saudi Arabia from a blacklist of countries which are accused of abusing children’s rights.  This arises from their bombing activities in the Yemen conflict but also the general treatment of children in Saudi.  In Yemen, 1,953 children were killed and it is estimated that 60% of these deaths are as a result of Saudi bombing.  Britain is a major supplier of weapons to the regime and British service personnel are advising the Saudis.

The kingdom, who routinely violates their own citizens’ human rights on a daily basis, threw a fit when the UN published its report and threatened to withhold funding from the organisation.

Foreign Policy reported that:

senior Saudi diplomats told top U.N. officials Riyadh would use its influence to convince other Arab governments and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to sever ties with the United Nations.

On Monday, Ban Ki-moon said

The Saudi coalition would be removed from the list, pending a review. Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi insisted the removal was “irreversible and unconditional.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty, have rightfully condemned and blasted the UN for their reversal:

It appears that political power and diplomatic clout have been allowed to trump the U.N.’s duty to expose those responsible for the killing and maiming of more than 1,000 of Yemen’s children,

Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, said in a statement:

The decision to retract its finding is a moral failure and goes against everything the U.N. is meant to stand for.

Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch deputy director for global advocacy, said that the office “has hit a new low by capitulating to Saudi Arabia’s brazen pressure” and “Yemen’s children deserve better.”

Amnesty International’s UN office claimed:

…if the U.N. doesn’t start standing up for human rights and its own principles then they will become part of the problem rather than the solution.

Saudi Arabia will not be the first country to browbeat the UN – at one time or another all countries have done it especially where embarrassing national interest is a stake.  This does seem to have been an especially egregious example however as the Saudi state’s crimes against children, and others, is well documented.  Combined with the bizarre election of the Saudi’s onto the Human Rights Council of the UN – supported shamefully by the UK Government – it begins to make a mockery of this international body.

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