David Cameron has been urged to "come clean" over the role the UK Government played in voting Saudi Arabia on to the UN Human Rights Council in an alleged secret deal.
The Saudi Government executed 47 people on Saturday causing outrage across the Middle East and sparking renewed concerns over its human rights record.
In response, the leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Green parties have demanded a public inquiry into whether Britain was involved in a secret vote-trading deal in 2013 to secure both countries a place on an influential UN panel.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks last year purported to show that the UK initiated secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support ahead of a ballot.
The exchanges have never been commented on by UK officials. Both Britain and Saudi Arabia were later named among the 47 member states of the UNHRC following the secret ballot.
Following the execution of dozens of people including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Mr Cameron has been accused by human rights campaigners of “turning a blind eye” to Saudi abuses.
And speaking to The Independent, Natalie Bennett and Tim Farron have led calls for the Government to issue a full response to last year's alleged leak.
Ms Bennett, the Green Party leader, said the Saudi kingdom’s role on the UN council was “one of many issued raised by the mass executions”. She called for a public inquiry into the leaked diplomatic cables and the UK’s alleged decision to support Saudi Arabia in spite of its human rights record.
“In light of the weekend's events, 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," she said. "The results of this inquiry must be published.
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.
“And the government must immediately suspend exports of arms to Saudi Arabia, and strengthen its currently extremely weak diplomatic response.”
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "It is time the Prime Minister came clean about whether the Government supported Saudi Arabia's election to the UN Human Rights Council.
"It would make a utter mockery of the values we hold dear if they did support them. We must be stronger with our supposed allies and say that systematic abuses of human rights will not be tolerated.
"If the Government did support the Saudi bid - it would show once and for all that the Government puts profit above fundermental human rights."
Amid widespread condemnation from the international community, the British government’s response to the Saudi executions has been limited.
Issued through the Foreign Office, it read: “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 foreign secretary regularly raises 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 those areas on which we do not agree, including on human rights.”
An FCO spokesman said: "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.
"So while the UK never publicises how it votes, this was not a contested election within the Asian Group and the UK's vote was immaterial."
At the time of the leak, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told The Australian: "Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights."Reuse content