David Cameron has defended Britain’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, including British assistance to the country’s widely-criticised military campaign Yemen.
The Prime Minister said the UK’s alliance with the oil-rich autocracy was important for its security and seemed to reject accusations that funding for Isis came from the Kingdom.
The Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last month for raising the allegations, describing them as a “distortion”.
But Mr Cameron stood by his ally and defended exports and military advisor support given to the country during its ongoing war.
“First of all, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for our own security. They are opponents of Daesh and the extremism [they spread],” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“In terms of our arms exports I think we have some of the most stringent controls anywhere in the world and I’ll always make sure they’re properly operated.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that the work done by Saudi Arabia is properly targeted and it’s right that we should do that. We’re working with them and others on behalf of the legitimate government on Yemen.”
Mr Cameron however said some educational training programmes funding by Saudi Arabia could be problematic, though he did not directly link them with extremists.
A number of human rights groups have warned that the country’s intervention in Yemen is likely to have breached human rights laws. The United Nations said late last year that a “humanitarian disaster” was unfolding in Yemen.
In December Human Rights Watch said the assault, which is in support of the internationally recognise Government against Houthi rebels, had killed 5,884 since March.
Multiple hospitals operated by the charity MSF have been bombed, that charity has said.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
Mr Cameron’s praise for the autocracy comes days after Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir urged Britain to “respect” his country’s use of the death penalty.
He told Channel 4 News: “With regards to the perception of Saudi Arabia among the British public, this is a problem we need to work on.
“We have not been good at explaining ourselves, we have not done a good job at reaching out to the British media or to the British public or to the British institutions, academic institutions, think thanks and so forth.
Two week ago the oil-rich kingdom executed 47 people in one day; most executions in the country are conducted by beheading.
The issue of the UK’s alliance with the country has come to the fore in recent months. In October the British Ministry of Justice cancelled a contract to run the Saudi prison system after pressure from Cabinet ministers and Mr Corbyn.
Previous stands taken against the Saudi Arabian regime have not gone the UK’s way, however.
High Court documents released in 2008 alleged that an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into Saudi Arabia was dropped because of threats by the kingdom to stop sharing intelligence on terror plots.
The files said the UK was told it faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if intelligence was cut off.
Downing Street blocked the investigation from continuing, the Guardian newspaper reported at the time.
Despite the about-face on the prisons contract, the UK still sells billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Between May 2010 and May 2015 the Coalition government licenced almost £4bn in arms to the regime, according to figures obtained by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
62 per cent of the public oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 16 per cent supporting them, according to a poll conducted by Opinium for that campaign group.Reuse content