FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bribery over Humanity: The UK, Saudi Arabia and the UN Human Rights Council

Wither human rights – especially when it comes to strategic partnerships. The UK-Saudi Arabia relationship has been one of a seedier sort, filled with military deals, mooted criticism and hedging. When given the John Snow treatment as to what Britain’s role behind securing Saudi Arabia its position on the UN Human Rights Council was, Prime Minister David Cameron fenced furiously before embellishing Riyadh’s value in its relations with the West.

The paper trail in such matters is always useful, and given that Britain remains one of the most secretive states in the western world, those things are not always easy to come by. Light, however, was already shed by cables released through WikiLeaks suggesting that a degree of haggling had taken place between the states over the subject of compromising human rights.

The Saudi cable trove, made available to WikiLeaks last June, has spurred various groups to comb through the foreign ministry collection with an eye to decoding the Kingdom’s sometimes inscrutable positions.

The relevant documentation in this case touches on talks between Saudi and British officials ahead of the November 2013 vote on membership of the 47 member body. Cables from January and February 2013, separately translated by UN Watch and The Australian, discloses proposed positions of support.

One cable posits how, “The [Saudi] delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.”

It goes on to say how, “The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The cables also reveal how money was expended for the campaign to gain the seat, noting a transfer of $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016.” While the itemisation of that item is not available, the Kingdom’s record on sugaring and softening its counterparts to improve its image is well known.

A spokesman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office attempted to nip any suspicions in the bud in rather unconvincing fashion. “Saudi Arabia took part in an uncontested election for a seat as one of the Asian Group members in the UN’s Human Rights Council.”

Besides, the UK’s position, so went the argument, was of no consequence, whatever might have been said behind closed doors. The UK might not publicise “how it votes” but as “this was not a contested election within the Asian Group… the UK’s vote was immaterial.”

The situation has also been further excited by the mass execution on Saturday of 47 individuals, including the outspoken Shia cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr. It was the largest show of death put on by the Kingdom since 1980.

Neither the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett or Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats, could let that one pass. “In light of the weekend’s events,” claimed Bennett, “the government should be launching an inquiry to establish who made the decision to so abuse the UN process and the principle of universal human rights.” The perennial problem here is that any government inquiry tends to be an exercise of exculpation rather than revelation.

The response from the British FCO to the spectacular bloodletting on Saturday was of the tepid, pedestrian variety, taken straight out of its precedent book of tepid, pedestrian responses. “The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country. The death penalty undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.”

The statement goes on to suggest that the foreign secretary is doing his job, regularly raising “human rights issues with his counterparts in countries of concern, including Saudi Arabia. We seek to build strong and mature relationships so that we can be candid with each other about these areas on which we do not agree, including on human rights.”

So candid were these exchanges, they led to a compromise regarding Britain’s own stance on human rights abuses. If anything, it induced a cynical caricature, one of positioning and sponsorship for an image distinctly at odds with the reality. For Riyadh, this could not be seen as anything other than a coup in international diplomacy. The Kingdom had found its own useful, complicit fool.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail