Our Prime Minister’s Views on Saudi Arabia and Human Rights is Reckless and Dangerous

Olivia Williams

Boris Johnson is no longer a joke; and his attitude to Saudi Arabia is no different. Day-by-day Johnson’s team announce more false commitments to strengthening Great Britain, but his political charade goes beyond our nation’s borders. 

Human rights are vital to every nation. They free the people from persecution so they can decide their own conception of the good life. Here are some of the key areas our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shown a dangerous attitude towards Saudi Arabia and human rights.  

Lack of understanding of the Middle East

Johnson has repeatedly demonstrated a dangerous lack of understanding of affairs in the Middle East. In 2016, when he first became Foreign Secretary, he made headlines, not only by breaking Foreign Office convention of criticising UK allies, but also for disparaging the Saudi and Iranian governments for “puppeteering and playing proxy wars” in the Middle East. His comments, at a conference in Rome, revealed his more extreme views on the region.

“There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”

Johnson’s blasé comments suggest either carelessness or a worryingly simple understanding of political motivations in the Middle East.

They are also massively contradictory. Previously in the Commons he has denied the conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between Saudi and Iran, and so it is hardly surprising that what Emily Thornberry MP has duped his “shabby hypocrisy” continues to this day.

Dishonesty about the arms trade

According to Johnson, the UK operates one of the best arms control regimes in the world, and are committed to International Humanitarian Law. However:

Government statistics show that during his time as Foreign Secretary, Johnson waived convention to allow £1.2 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite Cabinet rules dictating that the Secretary of State for International Trade take responsibility for granting arms export licences.  Johnson seemed unmoved by the devastating repercussions of these sales. In August 2016, a Saudi airstrike killed 14 people when it targeted a Yemeni food factory. Just 2 days later, Johnson signed off yet another licence.

According to Johnson “the key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to IHL is whether there is a clear risk that those weapons might be used in a commission of a serious violation of IHL [international humanitarian law].” But even after June 2019, when the Appeals Court rules the arms trade in violation of humanitarian laws, trade was not suspended, only the granting of new licences.

Instead of supporting the ruling, Johnson backed a challenge to it, despite conclusive independent evidence being submitted from a government enquiry, the UN, Amnesty and CAAT. The evidence reveals that:

Disquieting relationship with Saudi government

During his time as Foreign Secretary, Johnson drew criticism for a £14,000 trip to Jeddah from the deep paid for by the Saudi Foreign Ministry, under the veneer of discussing policy to empower women and girls. Since his visit the rights and women and girls in Saudi Arabia have mysteriously disappeared from his agenda.

In the same way the state-sponsored murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi and Boris’s own condemnation, fleeted from his mind, barely after the ink had dried on his column in the Telegraph. When Saudi rounded up and imprisoned prominent female rights activists Johnson was again silent.

At the beginning of the month when a series of government decrees announced adult women were able to travel freely, apply for a passport and have more control over family affairs, Johnson was again remarkably silent. Perhaps an act of keeping his rather tarnished golden head beneath the parapet, after the outrageous, outlandish comments published in the Telegraph that described women dressed in burkhas as resembling letterboxes.

What can you do?

We can’t let human rights can’t become the irrelevance that Johnson has made through his rhetoric and his actions.

For all Yemen families, for their vulnerable people and children; the Saudi women who are running away from their communities; for those unable to express their sexuality and for those who cruelly and unfairly punished for their opinions, the LCHR demands we wake up to the human rights injustices.

You can read our policy recommendations on how the British government can help reduce the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia: http://bit.ly/LCHRsaudipolicy. Please write to your MP urging them to implement these recommendations & end UK complicity in such egregious crimes.

Boris Johnson cannot be trusted to defend Human Rights

Stephen Delahunty

Last week just 0.13 % of the population voted in a man to be the next Prime Minister whose commitment to human rights is as dubious as his voting record on the subject.

The inevitability of Boris Johnson’s coronation as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister rendered the leadership contest something of a dud, despite his proclamation that he was the “dude” to unite the country, before blaming half of it for lacking optimism. 

Beyond his usual outlandish narcissism it is not clear what his promise to ‘deliver, unite, defeat, and energise’ will mean for protections afforded under the Human Rights Act. Introduced in 1998, it incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law, and it sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to.

However, the previous government failed to give assurances that it will not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act post-Brexit, and there is no evidence to suggest that Johnson, an ardent Euroscpetic who was taken to court under allegations of misconduct in a public office for claims made during the Leave campaign, can be trusted to maintain the Act’s commitments.

His party has previously pledged to replace the act with a British Bill of Rights, although Johnson missed a vote on whether to repeal the Human Rights Act in 2016.

Several human rights groups have already outlined what they think are the key issues that Johnson needs to address. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said that he must work to resolve the case of British Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives and accused of spying by Tehran.

Although the last time the former foreign secretary intervened he failed to secure her release and Iranian officials cited his words as evidence that she had engaged in “propaganda against the regime”. Nazanin’s husband has since called on Johnson to acknowledge his mistake.

Allen also said Johnson should work to empower women and girls and reunite refugee families torn apart by conflict and persecution. As foreign secretary, Johnson gave a speech to the UN Human Rights Council stating: “We could achieve virtually every sustainable development goal – if only we could provide every girl in the world with at least 12 years of quality education”.

Despite his trademark bluster Johnson has consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights and was absent for a vote on the Impact of Tax and Benefit Changes on Women and Protected Groups in 2016.

On foreign affairs, watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described his approach to human rights as “weak, inconsistent, and often incoherent”. London’s diplomatic efforts in Egypt and Myanmar have “lacked leadership”, and documents released last year suggested that Johnson pushed the government to continue UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite concerns UK arms are contributing to “significant” civilian deaths in the Saudi-coalition’s war in Yemen.

The former journalist has been sacked from previous roles for making up quotes and lying about an affair, while his history of racist, homophobic and anti-LGBT slurs suggest he is not suddenly going to become a friend to minority communities at home or internationally.

He has also been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Islamophobic comments, and once wrote a lengthy Spectator column arguing that the best thing for Africa would be for the old colonial powers to return. If trust and words are to matter in politics, the new Prime Minister’s grasp of language, history and culture make him unfit to hold office.

Ultimately the Old Etonian’s approach to human rights may be best judged by the company he keeps – Johnson has courted the same white nationalist Svengali that installed his floppy haired equivalent in the White House – and he has just appointed arguably the most anti-human rights cabinet to date. The no-deal Brexit his cabinet are advocating could see many human rights protections currently enjoyed by UK citizens lost, including employment rights, equality and privacy. 

The new Prime Minister used his first speech in the Commons to declare a new “Golden Age” – but if Johnson’s record is anything to go by – human rights protections could hark back to the Stone Age.

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LCHR call for the Labour Party to commit to a fully-funded legal aid system

Stephen Delahunty

The Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) is calling on the Labour Party to commit to a fully-funded and reformed legal aid system by adopting the recommendations of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice in full.

The report was commissioned by the Fabian Society and has the backing of Lord Falconer, Andy Slaughter MP, and grassroots groups like the Society of Labour Lawyers. Its recommendations would help reverse the Conservative government’s cuts to legal aid and improve the right to justice for millions of vulnerable people across the UK.

After almost a decade of cuts, legally aided matters have fallen from over 900,000 (2009/10) to less than 15,000 (2017/18), and the number of not-for-profit legal advice centres has more than halved in 10 years. While nearly a million people are living in areas where there is no legal aid provision for housing, and a further 15 million in areas with only one provider.

Shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon MP, committed to reform in 2018, but no further action has been taken. LCHR are now calling for the shadow justice team to adopt the recommendations in full as party policy and to include them in Labour’s next manifesto.

The recommendations include legislating for a new Right to Justice Act, which would establish a right to reasonable legal assistance that would be legally enforceable in the courts, as well as broadening the scope of civil legal aid and the legal aid eligibility rules. This would allow more people to access legal advice across the UK.

Matthew Turner, chair and executive director of the LCHR said: “Rights granted to British citizens are meaningless unless they can be enforced in the courts. That is why we are calling on Labour to treat the right to justice as a fundamental human right. Legal aid cannot be seen as a fringe issue.”

Labour MP and former barrister Andy Slaughter said that the Government’s own review had found that legal aid has been cut well below effective levels but it was still unwilling to act. 

Former Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice Lord Falconer said it was critical that Labour commit to restoring legal aid to levels that mean the poorest in society have genuine access to the law.

He added: “At the moment only the rich have those protections, and safeguards must be built in which stop any future government from dismantling those protections.”

Join the LCHR Committee!

Job Details

The Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) is an organisation that promotes human rights within the Labour Party. Our activities include:

  • Discussion: LCHR serves as a forum and platform for Labour members and others who have an interest in human rights. We foster dialogue between civil society, academia, the public, and the Labour Party on human rights issues.
  • Advocacy: we engage with Labour Party policy and Labour politicians to ensure that human rights are at the heart of Labour’s foreign and domestic policy agendas.
  • Policy work: LCHR generates policy proposals for the Labour Party that ensure the protection and promotion of human rights.
  • Public, grassroots campaigning and awareness raising: we raise the profile of human rights issues within the party and the wider Labour movement.

LCHR is looking for three (3) new volunteers to help us run the organisation and our ongoing campaigns. The volunteers will join LCHR’s managing committee.

 

Job Title: Volunteers (x 3) – Partnerships & Fundraising (x 1), Campaigns (x 1) and Communications (x 1)

Working For: Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Location: London

Salary: Voluntary role (flexible hours)

 

Partnerships & Fundraising

Alongside a range of broader contributions to LCHR’s campaigns, specific responsibilities will include:

  • Developing LCHR’s fundraising & partnership strategy, and maintaining and enhancing the long-term durability of the Campaign;
  • Identifying and securing funding opportunities from a range of sources, including trusts and foundations, institutions and the corporate sector;

Ideal candidates will have:

  • Commercial Awareness and the ability to identify and seize opportunities;
  • Excellent relationship building and stakeholder management skills;
  • A keen interest in human rights and politics;
  • Excellent communication skills, including writing skills;
  • A good understanding of the Labour Party; and
  • Support the Labour Campaign for Human Rights and our mission.

 

Campaigns

Alongside a range of broader contributions to LCHR’s campaigns, specific responsibilities will include:

  • Writing articles and briefings;
  • Creating/editing digital content, including videos, to support our campaigns;

Ideal candidates will have:

  • Experience with inDesign or creating graphics;
  • Creating/editing video content;
  • A keen interest in human rights and politics;
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including writing skills;
  • A good understanding of the Labour Party; and
  • Support the Labour Campaign for Human Rights and our mission.

 

Communications

Alongside a range of broader contributions to LCHR’s campaigns, specific responsibilities will include:

  • Creating/editing digital content to support our campaigns;
  • Producing a regular newsletter for our supporters; and
  • Helping run our social media channels;

Ideal candidate will have:

  • An interest in social media and/or experience in running a social media channel;
  • Experience using mailchimp;
  • A keen interest in human rights and politics;
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including writing skills;
  • A good understanding of the Labour Party; and
  • Support the Labour Campaign for Human Rights and our mission.

 

Please indicate on your application, which role(s) you’re interested in.

———–

Hours are flexible and the role is primarily home-based, although candidates will ideally be based in London for meetings and events. Around 2-3 hours per week commitment is typical by not required.

We particularly encourage applications from women and BAME candidates.

 

Application Details

Please send a CV and short cover note to campaigns@lchr.org.uk

We will acknowledge every application, and will aim to contact successful applicants by Wednesday 8th May.

Interview Dates

Interviews will take place on Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th May.

LCHR on Venezuela: a man-made humanitarian and human rights catastrophe

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By Corinne Linnecar, Campaigns Officer

As the world divides over its support for the declared leaders of Venezuela, what is happening to its people?

Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America. It is home to the largest known oil reserves in the world; more than Saudi Arabia. In 2013, it received an award from the UN for reducing hunger by half. Yet today, its simultaneous humanitarian and human rights crises have led to over 3 million people fleeing the country while those left within its borders face life-threatening conditions.

A rapidly deteriorating economy is set to see inflation rise to 10 million per cent in 2019. Even where food can be found, the prices have exceeded all realms of rationality, with one month’s salary now buying only 500g of oats, 24 eggs, or half a burger. The country is also severely lacking basic necessities and medicine. All of this has culminated in a humanitarian crisis, which is exacerbated by a repressive government that continues to crack down on dissenting voices.

Unlike many humanitarian crises in the world, Venezuela’s was not caused by war or natural disaster. This crisis is entirely man-made.

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Protests by parents must not be allowed to turn the clock back on LGBT rights

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This article was written by Peter Turay, Communications Officer at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, and originally published in The Times on 21 March 2019.

Over the past few weeks Birmingham has seen angry protests by parents outside a school, armed with aggressive placards and a megaphone. You could be mistaken for thinking this was a scene from Westminster which is plagued with protesters, both Remain and Leave, shouting at MPs (and anyone else unfortunate enough to walk past).

Instead, this protest was held outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, which has drawn criticism from parents for the introduction of their “no outsiders” programme to the school’s curriculum. The programme aims to promote social cohesion, by teaching the children about equality and helping them learn to be tolerant of differences, including sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this has sparked anger among some parents and conservative religious groups in the local community.

 

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LCHR: Introducing ‘Britain and Her Allies’

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Last year was an important one for human rights. We saw the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Act, and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These documents not only form the basis of human rights laws in the UK, which guarantee freedom from persecution, violence and oppression, but are essential components of our democracy. The Human Rights Act protects the fundamental rights of all British citizens – ranging from freedom of speech to freedom from torture – and is one of Labour’s proudest achievements.

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