Boris Johnson is no longer a joke; and his attitude to Saudi Arabia is no different. Day-by-day Johnson’s 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
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
“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
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
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:
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
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.