Minister defends UK’s approach to Saudi human rights record

Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood [Image: S Meddle/ITV/Rex Shutterstock].

Saudi Arabia’s attitude to human rights cannot be changed overnight, the government’s minister for the Middle East has claimed, arguing that any progress would need to “move at a pace that is acceptable to [the country’s] society”.

Tobias Ellwood, who is parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, said the Saudi government was well aware of the British government’s disapproval of human rights abuses by the country.

The minister had already come under fire from opposition parties for initially describing the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 people, including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as “disappointing”. The British Foreign Office later issued a tougher message calling for restraint on all sides.

The executions sparked protests in Shia-dominated Iran, where the Saudi embassy was stormed. This led to the Saudis breaking off diplomatic relations with Tehran, followed by Bahrain and Sudan.

Called to make a statement to MPs on the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, Ellwood said: “Founded just under 100 years ago, Saudi Arabia is a relatively young country and we recognise change cannot happen overnight. The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and as such needs to move at a pace that is acceptable to its society.”

The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, said the minister was right to refer to the importance of the two countries’ cooperation on counter-terrorism and tackling the threat from Isis. “But in a region that is already in ferment, with the brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the threat from Daesh [Isis], the minister must surely recognise that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis,” said Benn.

“On this side of the House we believe that the Saudi government was profoundly wrong to execute Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric, and three young Shia men whose alleged offences appear to have involved taking part in political protests and demonstrations against the current government.

“The House will have noticed that neither the prime minister’s comment nor the minister’s statement today mentioned Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by name and I say… that is a matter of great regret.”

Benn repeated Labour calls for the government to publish the memorandum of understanding signed by the UK justice secretary, Michael Gove, and the Saudi minister of justice on 10 September 2014.

Source: Minister defends UK’s approach to Saudi human rights record | World news | The Guardian

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7 thoughts on “Minister defends UK’s approach to Saudi human rights record

  1. Neilth

    So the establishment of the new country of Saudi Arabia a century ago was a long drawn out thing that took many years. No. It happened very quickly. To argue that change cannot happen overnight is to kowtow to the status quo. It is a means of justifying a morally bankrupt but expedient position of doing nothing to influence and try to influence the immoral behaviour of a regime simply because vested interests have a powerful influence here in the UK.

    I’m not surprised. This has long been foreign office response to human rights abuses in countries where it would be ‘inconvenient’ for the UK to actually respond meaningfully. We have long been acquiescent in our response to human rights abuses in many parts of the Middle East particularly in an attempt to maintain our (unused and therefore impotent) influence. Israel being a case in point. The killing of children, the annexing of Palestinian territory, the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and lives have long been shamefully tolerated.

    We have supported and armed some of the most repressive regimes in our own interests only to discover that those weapons have been used to oppress the minorities and dissent. We then excuse them and speak firmly to say we’re disappointed while continuing to arm and support them. Much of this is done in support of US policy in the Middle East but we are enthusiastic contributors to these inhumane tyrannies.

  2. Dez

    What a shallow bunch of hypocrites….you can smell the money talking and their bending over backwards to defend the undefensible….che-ching

  3. Joan Edington

    It is very true that Saudi’s attitude won’t be changed overnight, or more likely, ever. For the UK government to come out with such an excuse is rediculous. The change may be as slow as they like but, until they do change, they have no right to be on the Human Rights Council and the UK should be ashamed of backing them.

  4. Stephen Bee

    “The minister had already come under fire from opposition parties for initially describing the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 people, including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as “disappointing”.

    Not half as dissappointing as it was to Sheik Nimr al-Nimr!!

    ” The British Foreign Office later issued a tougher message calling for restraint on all sides.”

    Bit bloody late after they’ve beheaded 47 already!!

    “the minister must surely recognise that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis,” said Benn.”

    Oh dear we musn’t have a diplomatic political crisis because that is more imortant than the taking of another human life!!!

    Don’tchya just HATE Political correctness sometimes..?

  5. tavascarow

    The truth is despite the Saudi regime being evil & brutal, & in my humble opinion the main force behind Da’esh, despite what the politicians say.
    We need Saudi oil & I very much doubt anything would change in real terms if Labour where in power.
    How long would Corbyn stay in power if there was petrol rationing?

  6. mohandeer

    “The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, said the minister was right to refer to the importance of the two countries’ cooperation on counter-terrorism and tackling the threat from Isis.”
    What a shame then he doesn’t acknowledge that Saudi and Qatar are the main perpetrators(along with the Atlanticists) in supplying the Sunni extremist terrorists also known as DAESH.
    “But in a region that is already in ferment, with the brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the threat from Daesh [Isis], the minister must surely recognise that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis,” said Benn.”
    The brutal war in Yemen is that of Saudi Arabia shelling indiscriminately the indigenous peoples, and the murder of Shia Imams is totally unacceptable along with their apartheid treatment of both Shia Muslims but also Sunni critics of the extremist regime.
    When are we going to stop applying double standards as excuses for illegal wars and sanctions and involving ourselves in regime change for those countries who won’t cow tow, to states where the evidence is real and not propagandist lies?

  7. mrmarcpc

    Saudi Arabia can do whatever the hell they like because of the power and hold they wield over the entire Middle East, the West and other nations too, too much of an important power player for anyone to upset, but the likes of Iran do something and everyone’s all over them and condemning them, they should remember that they are also an important power player in the region too and should be on better terms with them, Iran wants better relations with the outside world but no one’s hearing them because the Saudis, and the Israelis, don’t want that so everyone’s not listening to them, a very dangerous game to be playing!

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