Leaked cables reveal British support for Saudi UNHRC seat

Allan Hogarth

Leaked diplomatic cables have revealed that the UK made secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to guarantee both countries were elected to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013 The Guardian reports.

The Saudi kingdom’s election two years ago resulted in international criticism given its deplorable human rights record – Riyadh has approved over 100 beheadings so far this year.

Currently, Shia activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr faces death by crucifixion after being convicted of joining an anti-government demonstration.

The news came to light after Saudia Arabia’s appointment this week as chair of a UNHRC panel tasked with selecting senior officials who draft international human rights standards and produce reports on violations.

Saudi foreign ministry files, leaked to Wikileaks in the summer describe talks between the country and British diplomats in November 2013 before the vote at the UN in New York.

The documents have been translated by UN Watch, an NGO based in Geneva whose remit is to scrutinise the organisation and newspaper The Australian.

They suggest the UK initiated the negotiations by requesting Saudi Arabia’s support. Both countries were subsequently elected to the UNHRC – which comprises 47 member states.

One cable read: “The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another cable indicated the Saudi kingdom had sent $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”.

Speaking to The Australian, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watchsaid: “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.

“UN Watch finds it troubling that the UK refuses to deny the London-Riyadh vote-trade as contemplated in the Saudi cable, nor even to reassure the public that their voting complies with the core reform of the UNHRC’s founding resolution, which provides that candidates be chosen based on their human rights record, and that members be those who uphold the highest standards of human rights.”

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “As is standard practice with all members, we never reveal our voting intentions or the way we vote.

“The British government strongly promotes human rights around the world and we raise our human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

“We regularly make our views known, including through the UN universal periodic review process and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights and democracy report.”

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs said: “If the UK is doing back-room deals with Saudi officials over human rights, this would be a slap in the face for those beleaguered Saudi activists who already struggle with endemic persecution in the kingdom.

“People like the blogger Raif Badawi, who is still behind bars, have paid a heavy price for speaking about democracy and the need for tolerance in Saudi Arabia, and now the young activist Mohammed al-Nimr is also facing execution.

“The UK should be supporting the rights of Badawi and Al-Nimr, not pushing the non-existing human rights credentials of the Saudi Arabian authorities.”

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