Bri­tain must hold the Saudis to ac­count for Ja­mal Khashoggi Emily Thorn­berry

Rather than an­noy a trad­ing part­ner, the Tories turn a blind eye to the coun­try’s ex­cesses

The Observer - - News -

Emily Thorn­berry: Bin Sal­man has no re­spect for hu­man rights

Imag­ine­how this gov­ern­ment would have re­acted if last week­end ei­ther Rus­sia or Iran had ab­ducted – and in all like­li­hood mur­dered – one of their dis­si­dent jour­nal­ists within the sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory of an­other coun­try.

In fact, we do not need to imag­ine it. We need only look back five months to the faked as­sas­si­na­tion of the Rus­sian jour­nal­ist Arkady Babchenko on the streets of Kiev. It took the then for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son, less than 24 hours to is­sue an of­fi­cial state­ment not only say­ing how ap­palled he was, but leav­ing no doubt that the Rus­sian state was re­spon­si­ble and say­ing it must be held to ac­count.

Roll for­ward to the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Saudi dis­si­dent jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi from his coun­try’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. From the time he went miss­ing on 2 Oc­to­ber, it took John­son’s suc­ces­sor, Jeremy Hunt, seven days to is­sue a tweet say­ing he was seek­ing ur­gent an­swers from the Saudi au­thor­i­ties.

That is the def­i­ni­tion of far too lit­tle, far too late. But that is the pat­tern when it comes to this gov­ern­ment’s re­la­tion­ship with the cur­rent Saudi regime, led by Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, so feted by Theresa May when he vis­ited the UK this sum­mer. And yet this man is the ar­chi­tect of the war in Ye­men, di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of thou­sands of civil­ians as a re­sult of airstrikes and hu­man­i­tar­ian block­ades, in­clud­ing the dozens of chil­dren killed on their school bus in Au­gust, some­one who should be the sub­ject of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion for crimes against in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

He pre­sides over what is pro­jected to be the big­gest year of be­head­ings in Saudi Ara­bia’s his­tory, in­clud­ing forc­ing those bru­tal ex­e­cu­tions on women and men sim­ply for protest­ing for greater civil, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious free­doms. He is the prince so sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism that he is forc­ing through a law that will pun­ish any in­di­vid­ual dis­tribut­ing satire on so­cial me­dia that “mocks, pro­vokes or dis­rupts pub­lic or­der, re­li­gious val­ues and pub­lic morals”, with prison sen­tences of up to five years and fines of up to £623,000.

And he is the so-called diplo­matic ge­nius who last year lured the prime min­is­ter of Le­banon to Riyadh on the pre­text of tak­ing a camp­ing trip, then had him beaten up and pa­raded in front of the cam­eras to make a forced tele­vised res­ig­na­tion, thank­fully later re­scinded.

This man has no re­spect for hu­man rights, no re­spect for the rule of law and no re­spect for ter­ri­to­rial bound­aries, so is it any won­der so many com­men­ta­tors are con­vinced he had no hes­i­ta­tion in or­der­ing the ab­duc­tion and mur­der of Khashoggi? And yet this gov­ern­ment ap­par­ently urges us to for­get all of that be­cause Bin Sal­man has com­mit­ted him­self to al­low­ing women in Saudi Ara­bia to have the right to drive their own cars. And, more im­por­tantly, he will give us a good trade deal af­ter Brexit so we can con­tinue ex­port­ing the arms he is us­ing to pros­e­cute his bru­tal war against the peo­ple of Ye­men.

Well, I am not hav­ing it, the Labour party is not hav­ing it and I don’t think the Bri­tish peo­ple are hav­ing it ei­ther. We should not be in league with a bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship that be­heads its own ci­ti­zens for stand­ing up for their rights, which rains down airstrikes on civil­ian ar­eas in Ye­men with no con­cern for in­no­cent chil­dren, and that thinks it can as­sas­si­nate dis­si­dent jour­nal­ists in other coun­tries with im­punity. We must ap­ply the same stan­dards to coun­tries such as Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael and Egypt that we ap­ply to Iran, Rus­sia and Syria.

Where any of them breach in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law, we must be pre­pared to call it out in the same mea­sure, rather than treat­ing it as one rule for our sup­posed friends and an­other for our sup­posed en­e­mies.

When Robin Cook set out to ap­ply an “eth­i­cal di­men­sion” to Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy just over 20 years ago, it was arms sales to coun­tries in the Mid­dle East that he had in mind and when he was forced to drop that pol­icy a few years later, to his great sad­ness, it was in part as a re­sult of pres­sure over the im­pact on ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia.

The next Labour gov­ern­ment, un­der Jeremy Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship, will not make that com­pro­mise. It is time to end Bri­tain’s blind spot on Saudi Ara­bia un­til Saudi Ara­bia is gen­uinely ready to change its ways.

Emily Thorn­berry is shadow sec­re­tary of state for for­eign and Com­mon­wealth af­fairs

He pre­sides over what is pro­jected to be the big­gest year of be­head­ings in Saudi’s his­tory

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