UK refuses to rule out backing Saudi to head UN rights panel

Sat Jul 16, 2016

This file photo shows former UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in May of 2016. (AFP)
This file photo shows former UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in May of 2016. (AFP)

The United Kingdom has refused to rule out backing Saudi Arabia’s re-election as the head of the UN Human Rights Council for a second time despite its dire human rights record.

Baroness Anelay, Britain’s Foreign Office minister, refused this month to answer a question on whether the UK would support Saudi Arabia’s re-appointment to the international body, the Independent reported on Saturday.

“The UK never publicizes how it votes in these matters,” she said in a written statement. “Saudi Arabia did not need our support in the last election to the Human Rights Council since they were uncontested.”

In September 2015, the Saudi ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, was elected to chair a panel of experts on the UN Human Rights Council.

The panel is responsible for appointing independent experts who investigate human rights issues around the world.

Faisal bin Hassan Trad, chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council

The appointment of the Saudi ambassador to the influential role, however, caused international and the British government came under fire for backing the kingdom.

Leaked diplomatic cables indicated the UK was involved in “a secret vote-trading deal to secure spaces on the council.”

British lawmaker Tom Brake denounced Saudi Arabia’s position on the council as an “international disgrace” and described the government’s refusal to disclose how it would vote as “ridiculous.”

“Saudi Arabia is one of the most serious violators of human rights in the world. The regime actively rejects women’s rights, minority rights, and religious freedoms, executes its citizens with alarming frequency and consistently undermines the rule of law,” he said.

“The fact that this country is currently on the Human Rights Council is an international disgrace,” he said, calling on the UK government to “break whatever ridiculous protocol to which they are currently clinging.”

The MP urged the government to state that “it will not only vote against Saudi’s re-election to the council, but also that it will actively and vocally encourage all other states to do the same.”

Back in June, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the UN General Assembly to immediately suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership rights on the council.

At the same time, the UN, however, gave into a Saudi demand to remove the oil-rich kingdom from its annual blacklist of child rights violators, less than a week after it blamed Riyadh for the killing of hundreds of Yemeni children.

A Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) report, published in June, said the Saudi coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child casualties in Yemen last year, during which 510 children were killed and 667 others injured.

Yemeni children stand outside a tent at a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) after they were forced to flee their homes due to the Saudi aggression on their country. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26, 2015 in a bid to bring Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi — who is a staunch ally of Riyadh — back to power and defeat the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

More than 9,400 people have been killed and at least 16,000 others injured since the onset of the aggression.

Reports indicate the UK has remained a staunch backer of the kingdom, refusing calls from the European Parliament and House of Commons international development committee to stop selling weapons to Riyadh.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International discovered a banned British-made cluster bomb used by the Saudis in the offensive in Yemen.

Britain has reportedly sold many such munitions, which are prohibited in over 100 countries, to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – a Saudi ally in the war on Yemen. It also sold scores of Tornado jet fighters to Riyadh.



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