In Multipolarity

By Adam Withnall, Charlie Cooper, exclusive in The Independent, Jan 3, 2016

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

British PM David Cameron meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saul Al Faisal at 10 Downing Street in March 2011 (Getty image)

British PM David Cameron meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saul Al Faisal at 10 Downing Street in March 2011 (Getty image)

The British government has been called upon to clarify the role it played in voting Saudi Arabia’s onto the UN Human Rights Council, after the kingdom executed 47 people in a single day sparking a backlash across the Middle East.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks last year purported to show that the UK was involved in a secret vote-trading deal to help ensure both countries a place on the influential panel. The exchanges, related to the November 2013 vote in New York, were published by The Australian newspaper and 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.

David Cameron has been accused by human rights campaigners of “turning a blind eye” to Saudi abuses, particularly in light of the killings this weekend that included the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. And speaking to The Independent, there were cross-party calls for the Government to issue a full response to last year’s alleged leak.

The Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, 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.

She said, “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. 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 fundamental 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.”

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