Tuesday, May 28

Theresa May urged to vote against Saudi Arabia



Theresa May Politicians and campaigners will demand Theresa May vote against Saudi Arabia retaining the powerful chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Council after a year which saw the country’s government savagely bomb Yemen, commit vast numbers of beheadings, a mass execution and detain activists.

Their call, on World Humanitarian Day, comes ahead of a critical UN vote on whether Saudi Arabia remains in the post, which it has controversially held since this time last year.

But despite the repeated and well publicised atrocities of the Middle Eastern state, ministers still refuse to say whether they will back the kingdom or not.

It follows recently emerged details of the huge quantities of military aircraft, bombs and arms the UK is selling Saudi Arabia, some of which have been used in a Yemeni campaign described as a “human catastrophe”.

Saudi’s appointment as UNHRC chair means it has influence over international human rights standards and reports on violations. Critics say the vote on 13 September is a golden opportunity for Ms May’s new government to demonstrate it truly values human rights.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Tom Brake accused the Government of making “endless excuses for the Saudi regime”.

Amnesty International meanwhile demanded the UK hold Saudi to account for “its appalling human rights record and the ongoing war crimes in Yemen”.

More than 6,500 people have died in the Yemeni conflict according to the UN and a further 2.5 million have been displaced. Over half the population faces severe food insecurity.

Save the Children says one in three under-fives is suffering acute malnutrition, while schools and hospitals have been flattened by Saudi bombs.

This week around 11 people were killed in an air strike on a hospital, following a pattern of bombings in civilian areas.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say they have identified 69 unlawful air strikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, killing at least 913 civilians. The two organisations also documented 19 attacks involving banned cluster munitions.

Mr Brake said: “Days after yet another hospital has been bombed in Yemen, it is time for the UK government to reconfirm our commitment to International Humanitarian Law and be absolutely clear that we will not support the re-election of Saudi Arabia to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Conservatives claim that votes to the council are always kept secret, but we demand transparency on this critical issue and will no longer accept their endless excuses for the Saudi regime.”

He added: “This Friday, on World Humanitarian Day, this is the UK’s chance to show true solidarity with all people facing conflict and instability across the globe.”

In April this year the number of beheadings in Saudi were on course to be more than double those that took place in 2015. In the first three months of 2016, 82 people were sentenced.

In January the state put 47 people to death for terror offences on a single day, mainly individuals convicted of involvement in deadly attacks.

Last year anti-government blogger Raif Badawi was flogged in public for exercising his right to free speech. He remains behind bars while his sister fled to Canada fearing for her life.

Amnesty’s UK Foreign Policy Programme Director Polly Truscott said: “There’s no way Saudi Arabia should be on the Human Rights Council. Nothing’s changed since we called for their suspension in June.

“The sheer scale of systematic abuses that Saudi Arabia has committed both at home and in Yemen, not to mention its cynical use of its privileged UN role to evade justice, have greatly compromised its integrity to play any international human rights role.

“Rather than turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s continuing bully tactics, the UK should publicly hold the Saudi authorities to account for its appalling human rights record and the ongoing war crimes in Yemen and should stop selling weapons to Saudi as a matter of urgency.”