Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’


Here is the latest death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley – thanks for your efforts on this.  There is no data on China – believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world together – as it is a state secret.

October/November report (Word)

Tree of Life. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

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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.


The death penalty report for August – September is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

We would also like to draw your attention to a relatively new death penalty campaigning organisation called the Death Penalty Project

AUG-SEPT

 

 


We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in putting it together.  Note that China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but details are a state secret.

There is an action taking place in Salisbury on 1 September between 9:00 and noon.  It will be in the Cheese market or in the Library passage.  Details are in the above report.

Potential new members are invited to come along and make themselves known during this event.

July – August report (pdf)

 


UK big four accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers in bid to help Saudi Defence

We still tend to think of professional accountants as respectable members of society.  Accountants are often the butt of jokes about being dull, boring and pedantic their very dullness being some kind of recognition of respectability.  This (respectability that is) is still likely to apply to the small and middle sized firms that inhabit the high streets around the country.  It does not apply to the big four firms of which PwC is one.  There has been a string of financial failures involved these accountancy firms and in the case of PwC, they have recently been fined a staggering $625m for audit failure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp in the USA on top of other audit failures including Merrill Lynch, RSM Tenon and famously BHS.  They are also involved in the Carilion collapse.  It is a wonder therefore that they continue to enjoy the influence they do but they are closely involved with both main political parties in the UK and in advising the Treasury.

In addition to audit incompetence is their role in tax avoidance.  This is on an ‘industrial scale’ according to a parliamentary committee and involves the design of complex schemes to shuffle money to various tax havens.

We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale,” said Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 2015

Billions of tax is thus avoided and the moral element of their actions is being questioned more and more.  As the Journal of World Business puts it:

These included apparent PwC entities based in jurisdictions known as tax havens, including for example the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg and Mauritius.  In regards to the Big 4′s role in the overall tax strategy of Multinational Enterprise’s (MNEs), it is the earlier ‘LuxLeaks’ of November 2014 which has provided a number of clear insights. These documents showed that PwC assisted MNEs to obtain at least 548 legal but secret tax rulings in Luxembourg from 2002 to 2010.  53(2018) [accessed 1 August 2018]

Further damage

So in addition to audit blunders, and tax avoidance activities on an industrial scale, what more can PwC do to damage its reputation still further?  Never underestimate the skill of a big four accountancy firm to carry on digging once it’s in a hole. It was revealed in Guardian newspaper on 1 August that the firm is negotiating to land a major contract to help streamline and modernise Saudi Arabia’s military.  Readers of this blog will be aware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in the humanitarian crisis engulfing Yemen, aided by weapons and personnel supplied by the UK.  That a major UK accountancy firm should risk its reputation still further by getting involved in the conflict is hard to understand.

It is also hard to understand in the context of its stated policies of which its website is replete.  This is their human rights statement :

We believe it’s our responsibility to respect and uphold the human rights of our people and any other individuals we are in contact with, either directly or indirectly.  Our unwavering commitment to human rights is demonstrated through our actions, our involvement in voluntary initiatives like the UN Global Compact1, PwC’s Global Human Rights Statement and related guidance for our people.

We work to guard against complicity in human rights abuses, comply with applicable labour and employment laws, and draw on internationally recognised labour principles in how we do business. Our approach to human rights is already well integrated into our existing business practices, for example as part of our Human Capital, Procurement, Ethics & Compliance and Corporate Responsibility activities.

In connection with human rights issues with clients :

If we have concerns that our work will be directly linked to human rights violations by a client, discuss our concerns with relevant parties, seek to mitigate the impacts and only proceed if we are comfortable that our work will not contribute to human rights violations.

Be prepared to walk away from clients and engagements where our integrity could be called into question if we continued

Pious words indeed and giving the impression of a firm committed – sorry, ‘unwaveringly committed’ – to protecting and upholding human rights standards internally and with those it does business.  Yet it is bidding for work in Saudi where beheadings are routine, torture is endemic, women’s rights are tightly restricted and which is engaged in a brutal war in Yemen with thousands dead and many more suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Amnesty

In a statement, Amnesty International said :

Like any company, international accountancy firms should ensure that they avoid contributing to human rights violations in their operations, or being directly linked to them by their business relationships.

We’d like to know what due diligence the company has done.  The United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights make it clear that a company may be viewed as complicit if they are seen to benefit from abuses committed by another party

In the Guardian piece, they say they asked PwC what due diligence it had done but the firm did not respond.

Assisting this regime – and in particular its defence activities – is to be deprecated.  One wonders whether the firm will rethink its tender?  Will it walk away?’  Unlikely.  The big four accountants are now so large (PwC had revenues of $37.7bn in 2016) so infused with hubris and so imbedded with the political process and government that a rethink is unlikely.

Sources: Guardian; Tax Justice Network; Independent; Accountancy Age; Economia; Internal Audit 360°; PwC’s website


If you feel outraged by activities such as these why not join us.  It is free to join locally.  Keep and eye on this site and on Facebook for our next activity and come along and make yourself known.

 

 


The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, aims to ease the suffering of women in conflict areas.  Will action follow?

We have often posted items on this site concerning our support for, and arming of, the Saudi regime in its war in Yemen and the awful human toll that this has caused.  Thousands have died, cholera is at epidemic proportions and civil society has been catastrophically damaged.  A blockade is making matters worse.  The has been considerable evidence that UK arms have been used to attack civilian targets including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals.  Yet we continue to aid the Saudis and the sale of weapons continues.  The Royal family is used to visit the regime and to welcome them here on a recent state visit.  The sale of weapons is so valuable that any concern at the destruction caused is effectively ignored.

In the context of the Yemen, as in many other conflicts, it is women and children who suffer often disproportionately.  The destruction of their community, the bombing of medical facilities and schools, the difficulty in acquiring food and clean water, all make life extremely difficult for them.  So it was interesting to read that the Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, attended a meeting in London with representatives of countries experiencing conflict.  Countries included:  the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as several international action groups, were welcomed to discuss the issues faced in their countries, particularly by women.

It is noticeable that Yemen was not among them.

Mr Williamson said:

Conflict can have devastating effects for anyone caught in its path, but life can be particularly traumatic for women. They are subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and their calls for justice are often falling on deaf ears.

I am determined we do more to listen to those who are often not given a voice. It is only by understanding the situation faced by women and girls that we will be able to protect them. Ministry of Defence news story, 19 July 2018 [accessed 27 July]

It appears that most if not all the countries attending had UK-trained peace keepers deployed there.  The news story went on to claim:

The UK has already increased peacekeeping in Sudan and Somalia, has deployed four Military Gender and Protection Advisers to DRC and has established a UK centre of excellence to integrate guidelines on women, peace and security into its work.  It is also among the first countries to publish a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

The minister claims that he is determined to ‘do more to listen to those often not given a voice‘.  This raises the question of what happens when he is told it is your weapons which are destroying our lives.  What more does he need to be told?  There have been countless authenticated reports on the destruction our weapons (and those of USA and France) have caused in war zones like Yemen.  A Médecins sans Frontières report is another example among many.  Countless reports, evidence on the ground, news reports and footage, all graphically describe the terrible events in that country.

So the questions for Mr Williamson are – when you have read the reports and done your ‘listening’ what are you going to do?  Will you take steps to cease arming the Saudis with weapons they are using to cause such mayhem?  Will you bring home the RAF personnel who are involved in the conflict?  What in short will you do to ease the plight of women caught ‘in its path’ as you put it?  Or was this just an exercise in public relations which will have no tangible or beneficial effects on the lives of women in war zones?

Will you listen and do nothing?


If you live in the Salisbury area we would be pleased to welcome you to our group.

 


Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.


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


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.


We attach the death penalty report for April thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

April report (Word)