Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category


The death penalty in Saudi Arabia: Salisbury group action
Thursday 10th October 2019 will be the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty so we are writing to invite you to take part in our Group Action.
This year we are focusing on the practice of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  A report by Baroness Kennedy, presented to the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, has highlighted the ‘alarming’ rise in state executions, including crucifixions.  It states that more than 134 people have been executed this year, with at least 24 more prisoners at imminent risk, including three children.
We are asking supporters to write to John Glen MP on 10th October, drawing his attention to the report, and calling on him to make representations to the Government to support its recommendations and to condemn Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty.
I have attached a copy of a suggested letter to Mr Glen (the member of parliament for Salisbury), which you are welcome to use, or to adapt into your own words.  The letter contains a link to Baroness Kennedy’s report.
If you are able to help, many thanks.

 


Good news today that the Court of Appeal has upheld the appeal by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade who are trying to stop the British government supplying lethal weapons to the Saudis who are using them to cause terrible death and destruction in Yemen.

There will be more about this in future posts.  A previous post on this subject can be read here.

 


Saudi Arabia: boy arrested aged 13 at risk of execution

Murtaja Qureiris was held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings during his interrogation.  Murtaja Qureiris faces possible execution for offences which date back to when he was just ten years old.  CNN footage shows him taking part in bike protest with other young boys in Shi’a Eastern Province in 2011.

Amnesty International is calling for the Saudi Arabian authorities to rule out the use of the death penalty against a teenager arrested at the age of 13 for participating in anti-government protests.  CNN this week revealed he was facing the death penalty and published video footage showing Murtaja Qureiris participating in bike protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province as a young boy in 2011.

Amnesty has confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution sought the death penalty for Murtaja Qureiris last August for a series of offences, some of which date back to when the teenager was just ten years old.  Qureiris, now aged 18, was arrested in September 2014 and detained in a juvenile detention centre in al-Dammam city.  He was held in solitary confinement for a month, and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation.  His interrogators promised to release him if he confessed to charges against him.  In May 2017, he was moved to al-Mabaheth prison in al-Dammam, an adult facility, even though he was still only 16.

Throughout his detention, Qureiris was denied access to a lawyer until after his first court session in August 2018. This was held at the country’s notorious Specialised Criminal Court, an anti-terrorism court set up in 2008 and increasingly used for cases involving human rights activists and protesters.

The charges against Murtaja Qureiris include participating in anti-government protests; attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris who was killed in a protest in 2011; joining a “terrorist organisation;” throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station, and firing at security forces.  He is currently awaiting his next trial session.  Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:

It is appalling that Murtaja Qureiris is facing execution for offences that include taking part in protests while he was just ten years old.
The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters – including children – from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority.
Instead of stepping up their use of the death penalty to silence critics.
There should be no doubt that the Saudi Arabian authorities are ready to go to any length to crack down on dissent against their own citizens, including by resorting to the death penalty for men who were merely boys at the time of their arrest.”

Persecution of Shi’as in the Eastern Province

Since 2011, the authorities have cracked down on successive waves of protests by the Shi’a minority in the country’s Eastern Province.  In April this year, Amnesty confirmed the execution of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, a young Shi’a man arrested aged 16 and convicted of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests.  He was among 37 men put to death in one day as part of a gruesome execution spree.  Three other Shi’a men – Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, who were arrested in 2012 aged 17, 16 and 17 respectively in connection with their involvement in anti-government protests – are at risk of being executed at any time.

Since 2014, more than 100 Shi’a Saudis have been tried before the Specialised Criminal Court on vague and wide-ranging charges arising from their opposition to the government, including peaceful criticism of the authorities.  Amnesty has documented that a number of these have involved grossly unfair trials, with defendants convicted and – in many cases – sentenced to death on vague charges that criminalise peaceful opposition, and on the basis of “confessions” extracted through torture or other coercive means.

Appalling record
Saudi Arabia has an appalling record of using the death penalty – including against children – after grossly unfair trials that rely on confessions extracted through torture. The use of the death penalty for offences allegedly committed by people under 18 is strictly prohibited by international law. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances without exception.


Source: Amnesty press release.

Amnesty is hosting a talk by Paul Mason on 24th June.  If you want to join us, this would be a good time to make yourself known.  UPDATE: We regret to say this event has been cancelled.


The most recent death penalty report on the use of the death penalty around the world is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

Report (Word)


Shocking news of a beheading spree in Saudi Arabia.  Allegations of a crucifixion

It has been widely reported that Saudi Arabia executed 37 individuals on Tuesday 23 April 2019 in what was the biggest mass execution since 2016.  The executions have been widely condemned around the world and mark an alarming increase in the use of the death penalty by the regime.  Any hope that the rise to power of Mohammad bin Salman (pictured) marked a more liberal regime seem well and truly to be finished.

The UK government is usually quite reticent in these matters claiming to make its views known behind the scenes.  However, in this instance, diplomatic language seems to be set to one side following an urgent statement in the House of Commons:

The Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, answering an urgent question in the Commons, spurned the usual diplomatic niceties, saying the mass executions were “a deeply backward step which we deplore”. He added it was “deplorable and totally unacceptable” that at least one of those executed had been a minor at the time of the arrest.
He highlighted reports that one of those executed was displayed on a cross, saying that anyone in the House, just two days after Easter, would find “more repulsive than anything we could picture.  Parliament site [accessed 24 April 2019]

In response, Sir Vince Cable said:

We are in urgent need of a reappraisal of our relationship with Saudi Arabia given that the continued medieval barbarism of the regime does not constitute the basis for a friendly alliance, and indeed makes it an enemy of our values and our human rights.  Ibid

The executions follow sham trials and according to Amnesty International, involve confessions achieved through the use of torture.  The families of those executed were not told of the executions in advance.  It has been reported that one head was displayed on a pole and that one man was crucified.

Juvenile

One individual, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was arrested at the age of 16 and the execution of people under the age of 18 at the time of their arrest is against international law.

So far this year, Saudi has executed 104 people and if the current rate continues, will exceed last year’s total of 149 for the whole year.

Saudi Arabia is a major customer for our arms industry and our weapons are among those being used in the devastating war currently being waged in Yemen

Sources:  Parliament site; CNN; Guardian

 


Congress votes to end military aid to Saudi

In our last post two days ago, we highlighted the Dispatches programme which described in graphic detail the role our weapons supplies were having in Yemen.  The Saudis, using jets supplied by us, were creating suffering on an almost unimaginable scale with tens of thousands of deaths, a cholera outbreak and starvation of its people.

Today, 4 April 2019, the US Congress has voted 247 to 155 to end military aid to Saudi Arabia.  Further votes are planned to stop weapons supplies as well.  It is expected that President Trump will veto the actions but nevertheless, it sends a strong message of what Americans think of this terrible regime and its countries continuing military support for it.

This puts the UK in a tricky position.  A chief ally stepping back leaves this country somewhat exposed.  We shall have to see over the coming days what feeble excuses are trotted out to justify our support and role in the killing.

Sources: The Nation, Washington Post, the Guardian

 


Channel 4 Dispatches programme shows Britain’s involvement in this terrible war

On Monday 1 April 2019, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme showed some terrible scenes from the war in Yemen and the death and destruction which is taking place.  The war has resulted in considerable misery for thousands of civilians and the programme reported that around 55,000 children under 5 have died from malnutrition as a result.

They focused on a bus which containing school children which was bombed in a market place killing 40.  They were able to find a young survivor who had suffered shrapnel wounds but was lucky to have escaped with his life.  He was understandably still traumatised.

Britain – as we have noted in this blog many times before – is a key supplier of weapons and the main supplier is BAE Systems who sell the Typhoon fighter jet.  It is these jets, along with those supplied by the Americans, which are used to bomb Yemen and in particular, schools, mosques and hospitals.

In addition to supplying jets and munitions, the programme revealed that 6,000 BAE staff were working there involved in the crucial business of keeping the jets flying.  They managed to excuse their activities by claiming that because they do not actually handle the weapons – the final 5% as someone put it – therefore they were not mercenaries.  They also reported that British military personnel (which we know to be from the RAF) were also involved.

A great deal of time was spent interviewing various individuals concerning the ethics of supplying weapons – especially jets and their rockets – which are used by the Royal Saudi Air Force to cause such misery.

‘Dancing with the Devil is sometimes worth it’ former Air Vice-Marshall Sean Bell

One person interviewed was former Air vice-Marshall Sean Bell who argued that if we were not involved it could be a whole lot worse.  This seemed to be based on the notion that we were in some way moderating the Saudi activities which seemed a weak argument especially in the light of the rest of the programme.  He said ‘dancing with the devil is sometimes worth it’ because of the influence it gives us, not just with the Saudis but also in the Middle East generally.  Our involvement and dependence on Saudi arms sales was featured in a Channel 4 news item with Bell.  A Twitter feed on this topic can be found at @c4dispatches.

The British government has also been engaged in some dubious thinking based also on the notion of influence.  The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP said in the House of Commons:

Because of our commercial relations with Saudi Arabia we are actively monitoring their compliance with International Human Rights law and we have a lot of contact with them […] We raise concerns with them if we think things are going wrong.  Clip from the Dispatches programme

This concept of maintaining contact so that we can exert influence took a knock in the programme because it was revealed we have in fact next to no influence.  Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that attempts to hold back the Saudis seemed ineffectual since their attitude was to ‘act quickly and ask questions later.’

Further damage to the notion of influence was evidence from an American official sent to investigate after the school atrocity.  It seems our personnel were ‘not where it mattered’ [in the control room that is] but that there was a separate floor where the operations were actually being directed.  More damagingly, most of the strikes are not in fact controlled from Riyadh but are what are called ‘dynamic strikes’ conducted by SRAF pilots without reference to the control room.  They do not have in their cockpits the vital information about which targets are safe to be hit.

Conclusions

Britain’s involvement in this war is calamitous for the country itself and our influence and reputation.  We can hardly complain about Russia’s activities in Syria when we are only one remove from doing the same in Yemen.  Because sale of arms to Saudi Arabia is so important and lucrative, we are not in a position to end it without significant damage to our balance of payments.  The only beneficiary of this trade are the shareholders of BAE Systems and other arms firms and dealers.  The losers are of course the 60,000 dead in Yemen.

In addition to the use of our weapons in this terrible war, is the fact that we have given support to this regime, a regime which systematically uses torture and has closed down any form of dissent and freedom of speech.  Again the arguments are about our ‘influence’ which seems to be all but invisible.  Members of the royal family are regularly rolled out to visit and add a veneer of respectability to the Saudi royals.

When Mohammad bin Salman assumed power the talk was of a reforming monarch.  This disintegrated following the Khashoggi murder and more arrests of human rights activists.

The final word should perhaps go to Andrew Mitchell MP, interviewed on the programme, who said:

History will judge it as an appalling failure of British foreign policy

 


UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia

The war in Yemen continues and the death toll continues to rise.  The UN estimates around half a million people have cholera.  They also estimate around two thirds of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Yet the UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and half our arms exports go to the country.

The supply of arms is monitored by the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) yet bizarrely, at its most recent meeting, it did not have the supply of weapons to Saudi on the agenda presumably because it has become too sensitive a subject.

There are many worries about arms sales and in particular the use of what are called ‘open licences’.  There are also concerns about brass plate companies which are often fronts for brokers.  Control Arms UK has submitted evidence to CAEC suggesting that the number of licences has increased by 17% in one year.  It is not possible to determine what items are sold under this secretive open licence system since it can be a small item of equipment or a jet fighter.  The Government must demonstrate that companies using open licences are subjected to proportionately rigorous and frequent compliance audits.  We are ‘most dissatisfied at the Government’s admission that no such audits are ever carried out in respect of UK companies’ operations overseas’ (our italics).

Detailed work by researchers suggests that civilian casualties are running at a far higher level than those documented by the UN. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), at least 56,000 civilians were killed between January 2016 and October 2018.  They estimate that from March 2015 to the end of 2018, the number of civilian deaths related to combat could be as high as 80,000.  This does not include deaths resulting from disease or malnutrition.

Not only did the select committee not discuss Yemen, but the chair of the committee, Graham Jones MP (Lab) launched an extraordinary attack on the various organisations reporting on what is happening in that country.  He accused them of being ‘dishonest’ in their reporting.  They were guilty of ‘gross exaggeration’ of what has happened.  Much of their evidence was false he said.  It was ‘disgraceful how NGOs and loony left organisations have refused to back the UN’s unanimous position’.  He denied that the problems there were an airstrike problem but were as a result of economic mismanagement.

His view is that the fault lies with the Houthis and he is in support of the Saudi’s actions there.  He was to be seen with Price Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the UK.

The misery in Yemen continues and the government continues to allow the supply of weapons causing huge damage to the country.  While the number of air attacks has diminished in 2018, the proportion of those attacks striking clearly civilian targets rose, while attacks on clear military targets fell according to Control Arms.  They report that of the 3,362 air raids in Yemen in 2018:

 420 air raids hit residential areas
 231 hit farms
 133 hit transport infrastructure
 95 hit civilian vehicles and buses[5]
 31 hit educational facilities (schools, institutes, universities, etc.)

Other targets included market places, mosques and medical facilities.

It seems unlikely that the situation will improve although peace talks are continuing. It is disappointing that the chair of the relevant Commons committee should voice opinions which suggest he is less than impartial.  Undoubtedly, NGOs and other organisations make errors in reporting on the situation in Yemen but to suggest that it is all a gross exaggeration is not justified.  Our involvement in the bombing campaign and the extent of our arms supplies is unconscionable and is fueling the conflict.

 

 

 


Peace talks in Sweden offer slender hope for peace in Yemen

We have be writing blogs about the war in Yemen for over three years now going back to the time when it was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’.  The group wrote to our local MP to raise concerns about war crimes and we received the usual bland reply from a FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood and a covering note from Mr Glen saying:

However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift.  It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.

Mr John Glen MP, July 2015

This ‘behind the scenes engagement’ has not yielded anything of any value and indeed, while the slaughter has increased, British arms sales have also increased adding to the misery of this country.  It is now estimated over 10,000 have been killed, over 3 million have had to flee their homes and nearly 14 million Yemenis are in fear of starvation.  

Over the past 3 years or so, we have reported on critical select committee reports, newspaper revelations about our involvement and trips by our royals, the Foreign Secretary and the prime minister to Saudi Arabia to help promote arms sales.  It was originally argued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we had a tough regime to control arms sales to regimes where human rights were ignored.  The shear weight of evidence of violations by Saudi Arabia, both with its own citizens and in Yemen, makes this statement hollow. 

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about the conflict in an article in the Guardian saying that the British government is complicit in the death of thousands in the war through its continued sale of arms.  He refers to a recently published Christian Aid report pointing to the absurd position our government is in, namely giving half our aid to states and regions affected by chronic violent conflict and at the same time, half our arms sales go to states where military force is used against its citizens.  As Dr Williams puts it:

It’s as if we are creating, or at least helping to maintain, the very conflicts whose terrible effects we then spend money of mitigating

Britain’s direct complicity in the war in Yemen must end.  Rowan Williams 14 December 2018 The Guardia

The CA report comments on the ambivalence – some might say hypocrisy – of the British government’s position:

The double standards are most stark in relation to the UK’s complicity in the conflict in Yemen.  On one hand, the UK is leading calls in the UN for a peace agreement, and is the leading financial supporter of humanitarian aid to Yemenis and the UN Special Envoy’s peace-making endeavours.  On the other, it is promoting significant new arms sales to the government of Saudi Arabia and actively supporting military operations of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen.  This has included attacks that may amount to war crimes.

Christian Aid: For Yemen’s sake: stop selling arms, 13 December, 2018

As events in Yemen got worse and the death toll rose, Britain actually increased its sale of arms to Saudi according to a Sky News report.  Despite credible reports of bombing of civilian facilities including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, we went on with our arms sales and provided RAF personnel to advise the Saudis.  

The UK government is in something of a bind however.  The extent of our arms sales to the Saudis is such that scaling them back would be extremely difficult in terms of the economic impact on parts of the country which depend on them.  With Brexit looming – whatever the outcome – we will need all the business we can get.  Dr Williams’ plea to stop sales to certain countries is unlikely to receive more than a polite hearing therefore.  

This is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the EU and the wider world.  The UK Government, as one of the world’s largest aid donors, largest arms exporters and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a global leader on war and peace.  There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, in responding to climate change, upholding principles of multilateralism, supporting the UN Peacebuilding Fund, and committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid.  Yet undermining these peacebuilding efforts are some stark double standards fuelling war instead.  Such as the fact the UK is currently on track to become one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, exporting the majority of its arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  If the UK Government is really committed to peace, Christian Aid calls on them to address these stark double standards and champion international law and peace in its foreign and aid policies. 

Christian Aid, ibid

We hope the peace deal agreed in Sweden will hold and yield results.  

Sources: 
The Guardian, CAAT, Sky News, Christian Aid, Amnesty International 

If you live in the Salisbury area, you would be welcome to join us. It is free to join the local group and the best thing is to keep an eye on this page, or Twitter or Facebook as you prefer, and come along to the next event and make yourself known.  



Recent events reveal western government’s attitudes to human rights

The events of the last few weeks in Istanbul, with the possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy, has put a spotlight on the western government’s attitude to human rights and the rule of law.

For several years now we have been happy to sell arms to Saudi and we have been largely quiescent during the bombing of Yemen.  Yemen has been in the news recently with filmed reports of the increasingly desperate state the country and its people are in.  Reports of bombing of civilian targets and medical facilities receive brief coverage but do not however, generate much outrage.

The scale of misery there is now huge and represents a major tragedy.  The Saudi forces, aided by UK arms and military personnel, have wreaked terrible harm on the country.  A whole list of non-military targets has been bombed including ports, food production facilities and refugee camps.  As many as 13 million people are now suffering there.  Yet our politicians are largely silent and the ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is feted here by the Royal family and others.

By contrast,  the possible killing of this journalist has plunged the Saudi kingdom into crisis and led to many politicians withdrawing from the forthcoming Davos in the Desert.  

Much of our media seemed happy to accept the idea that MbS, as he is known, was a moderniser and were excited when he allowed women to drive for the first time.  They overlooked the locking up of journalists, lawyers and human rights workers and did not notice that the woman who campaigned for the right for women to drive was in prison.  It was as though a hint of reform was enough to switch off any critical assessment of his actual performance as a despot.  Executions continue at an alarming rate and Human Rights Watch noted a spate of 48 in a four month period earlier in the year, mostly for non-violent offences.  Torture is still routine.

All this shows that the real concern is the sale of weapons and the supply of oil.  It is fair to argue that MbS knew our politicians were more concerned about trade than they were about human rights or international justice.  This is likely to have led him to believe he could remove the irritant of someone like Khashoggi and after a brief fuss, life would carry on.  He may well be right.

At present, we cannot know how this crisis will pan out for the Saudi government.  Western governments are going through contortions trying to balance the need to keep in with the regime to protect commercial interests, with some kind of need to show a moral standing in the face of credible reports that Khashoggi may have been murdered and dismembered in the embassy.  Liam Fox waited two weeks until today (18 October) to cancel his visit to the Future Investment Initiative.  Amnesty is calling for an investigation.

Today’s Daily Mail newspaper revealed the large number of MPs and ministers – mostly Conservative with a few Labour – who have accepted hospitality and gifts from the regime not all of them declared.  They include the Chancellor who was given an expensive watch.  The total, the paper reveals, is more than £200,000 since 2015 and £106,000 this year.  Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International  said in the article:

Any MP tempted by a lavish trip to Saudi Arabia ought to bear in mind that jailed Saudi human rights defenders are currently languishing in jail, while the Saudi coalition’s lethal bombing of Yemen is making lives miserable for thousands of poor and malnourished Yemenis.
Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is well-documented, and no parliamentarian should go to the country without being prepared to publicly raise human rights.

George Graham, of Save the Children, said:

For three years Saudi Arabia has been killing children in Yemen, quite possibly with British-made weapons. The fighting has driven millions of families to the brink of famine and created the worst cholera epidemic in living memory. Our leaders must do what’s right and stop fuelling this conflict with military and political support for one side in this brutal war.  Daily Mail online [accessed 19 October 2018]

The naiveté of the MPs is astonishing and some of their comments are quite disgraceful in view of the appalling human rights record of the country.  It is unlikely that they will be pushing the government to adopt a more vigorous line in future.

However, it has put our relationship with an unsavoury regime in the spotlight and with papers like the Mail giving space to the story, there are slender grounds for optimism.


In our next blog, we shall be listing forthcoming events.  If you live in the Salisbury, Amesbury or Downton area and are interested in joining, please have a look and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join our group.