Photo: Shabbir Lakha Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Statement from organisations opposing the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to the UK and urging people to join the demonstration tomorrow

The government has responded to the Parliamentary Petition urging the cancellation of the state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The organisations who have opposed his visit have issued the following reply to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office response:

The first claim of the government is that supporting the Saudi dictatorship has made ‘both of our countries safer and more prosperous’. Yet the Saudi regime’s autocratic rule and obvious destabilising actions in Yemen, Bahrain and other countries in the region serve to influence the sort of extremism that threatens the UK. The illegal blockade imposed upon Qatar is a breach of human rights for the people of Qatar and the Gulf. Encouraging the author of such actions through this visit will surely accelerate the threats to peace and prosperity of large parts of the Middle East.

The second claim is that the Crown Prince is engaged in ‘reforms to modernise society and the economy’. UK governments have supported previous Saudi rulers as “reformers”. Yet Saudi Arabia today has a hereditary regime that appoints the government. Citizens are not allowed to join a political party, or trade union. Women are bound by a guardian system which subordinates their movement to a male relative. There is no freedom of speech or assembly. Political prisoners are subject to torture, whipping and execution. It is not a huge advance for the only regime in the world that bans women from driving to lift that ban. In comparison to real freedoms, those the Crown Prince offers are cosmetics.

The third claim is that engagement on human rights must be ‘practical, realistic and achievable’. The government here demonstrates a conventional hypocrisy. It raises concern about the absence of human rights in Saudi Arabia with the regime, knowing that the regime will not act upon these concerns. The UK government then continues to make arms deals with the regime, whilst claiming to influence the Saudi regime’s approach to human rights. The dishonesty in this situation entirely resides with the UK government.

The fourth claim is that the Saudi regime invaded Bahrain to ensure ‘vital infrastructure was secure’. The threat that peaceful protestors were making was to the stability of the unelected monarchy and government on the island. The infrastructure of the country was not being reduced to rubble, unlike the Pearl Roundabout, symbol of Bahrain’s struggle for freedom, bulldozed by the regime. The repression of the people is being excused by the UK government. Ironically, or not, Yemen’s infrastructure is today being destroyed by Saudi warplanes, manufactured in the UK, with pilots trained by Britain.

The fifth claim is that the UK is ‘committed to securing a political solution’ in Yemen. The British government has licensed £4.6 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the Crown Prince launched the war upon Yemen. In addition, the Saudi organised blockade of Yemen has created what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Lifting the blockade and ending the war are preconditions for a lasting political solution for the people of Yemen. The UK government is supporting this war by political, military, logistical and diplomatic means. There is no military solution and claiming this is the route is obviously false.

The sixth claim is that the UK government takes its “defence exports responsibilities very seriously”. Investigation of serious documented breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen has been hindered by the Saudi refusal to accept a UN international commission of inquiry. The UK has failed to support calls for an independent investigation into the violation in Yemen and has instead relied on the perpetrators to investigate themselves. The “Joint Incident Assessment Team” (JIAT) that has been set up to investigate has been hindered by false and misleading responses made by the Saudi regime and has only investigated 41 of the many allegations. No suspension of arms exports has been made pending the findings of the JIAT. This hardly speaks of rigorous care by the UK government and contrasts badly to the examples of Germany, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have all introduced restrictions on arms exports which may be used in Yemen.

We refuse to accept the government’s response, and will demonstrate outside Downing Street at 5pm on Wednesday 7th March, the first day of the Crown Prince’s visit.

Statement endorsed by:

Arab Organisation of Human Rights

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

Bahrain Opposition Bloc

Campaign Against Arms Trade

Global Justice Now

Human Rights for Yemen

Islamic Human Rights Commision

Iraqi Democrats

Peace Pledge Union

Sheba for Democracy and Human Rights

Stop the War Coalition

War on Want