Leaked diplomatic cables show Britain and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst human rights violators, brokered a secret vote-trading deal to ensure both countries were elected to the the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UNHRC). Saudi foreign ministry files were passed to Wikileaks in June, reports The Guardian. They referred to talks conducted with diplomats representing David Cameron’s British government ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York.
The documents have now been been translated by the monitoring organisation UN Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organisation that scrutinises the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter – and newspaper the The Australian.
The classified cables showed Britain initiated the talks by asking Saudi Arabia for support ahead of the UNHRC elections. In the end both Britain and Saudi Arabia were elected to the 47 member state body.
One of the cables, referring to the elections, read: “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 document revealed Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016″ – how this money was deployed, if at all, remains unclear.
A series of questions were put to the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, by The Australian about the secret pact, including whether Saudi Arabia’s human rights record made it problematic. A spokesman responded:
“As is standard practice with all members we never reveal our voting intentions or vote. The British government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record. We regularly make our views well known, including through the UN Universal Periodic Review process and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual Human Rights and Democracy Report, and raise human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Executive director of UN Watch, Hillel C. Neuer said the Foreign Office’s claim of “standard practice” is “manifestly false”, citing by way of example the fact Vietnam has revealed voting pacts with both Bangladesh and Uruguay. He added:
“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.”
Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said back-room deals with Saudi Arabia of this sort would be “a slap in the face” for Saudi human rights activists facing persecution. He continued:
“People like the blogger Raif Badawi [pictured above], 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 [picture below] 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.”
In June Breitbart reported the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had carried out 100 executions so far this year, just 92 executions short of breaking their 1995 record.
The exposure of the secret deal comes hot on the heels of Saudi Arabia’s appointment this week as chair of a panel of UNHCR member states that selects senior officials who draft international human rights standards and report on violations.