Theresa May has refused to say if she will withdraw backing for Saudi Arabian membership of the UN Human Rights Council, despite the kingdom being accused of civilian atrocities in Yemen.
The Prime Minister was confronted by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who demanded to know if the UK will vote for continued Saudi membership at a crucial ballot later this month.
It comes amid renewed bombardment of Yemen by Saudi-led coalition forces and news reported by The Independent that the UK is training the Kingdom’s pilots.
Earlier this month the Saudi-led coalition admitted responsibility for the bombing of a funeral that killed 140 people and wounded 600 more – blaming the “wrong information”.
Raising the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Corbyn said: “Three years ago the United Kingdom backed Saudi Arabian membership of the UN Human Rights councils. On the 28th of October, there are elections again for the UN Human Rights Council.
“A UN panel has warned that Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen has violated international law.”
He then cited concerns from Amnesty International over executions, discrimination against women and torture, before adding: “Will her government again be backing the Saudi dictatorship for membership of that committee?”
Ms May refused to answer the question directly, only saying that where there are “legitimate human rights concerns” over Saudi Arabia, then the UK would raise them with the country.
She added: "In relation to the action in Yemen, we have been clear that we want the incidents that have been referred, to be properly investigated.
“We want the Saudi Arabians, if there are lessons to be learnt from those, to learn lessons from those.
“But I reiterate a point that I’ve made in this House before, that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important relationship. It’s a particularly important relationship in relation to the security of this country and counter-terrorism.”
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.
A report by the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team into the funeral bombing admitted responsibility this month, but blamed “wrong information” from allies.
The Independent has reported that the Saudi Air Force is still being trained by the British Government amid the accusations of atrocities.
Yemen descended into full-blown civil war between the Saudi-backed exiled government and Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi rebels in March 2015, when Houthi fighters took control of the country’s capital.
Since then, more than 10,000 people have died, the UN says, more than three million people have been displaced and the country is on the brink of famine thanks to the Saudi closure of Yemeni airspace and port blockades in the Gulf of Aden.
Saudi-led air strikes from March 2016 onwards have escalated the conflict and resulted in a sharp increase in civilian deaths.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade reports that the UK has licensed £3.3bn worth of arms to the Saudi government since last March.
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.Reuse content