Exclusive: UK Government urged to reveal its role in getting Saudi Arabia onto UN Human Rights Council

Liberal Democrat and Green Party leaders call on David Cameron to reveal whether British government supported Saudi bid

Adam Withnall,Charlie Cooper
Sunday 03 January 2016 17:48 GMT
Prime Minister David Cameron meets with The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saul Al Faisal inside 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister David Cameron meets with The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saul Al Faisal inside 10 Downing Street (Getty)

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.

“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."

Iran: Angry protesters set fire to Saudi embassy in Tehran

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."

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