Theresa May refuses to withdraw support for Saudi Arabia’s place on UN Human Rights Council despite Yemen atrocities

It comes ahead of a crucial vote on membership of the council later this month

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 26 October 2016 13:05 BST
Theresa May refuses to say whether Saudi Arabia will have British backing on UN membership

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?”

Video footage shows moment air strike hits funeral in Yemen

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.”

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.

Theresa May can't give assurances that no civilians have been killed by British arms in Yemen

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.

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