27 September 2017 – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has today condemned Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for their human rights abuses, following on from Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s criticism of the repressive regimes earlier in the party’s annual conference this week.
Earlier this month, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote letters to four party leaders, including Labour, warning that turning a blind eye to human rights in trade and security deals in the Gulf precipitates violence and instability. BIRD urged the parties to adopt stronger human rights values in their policies towards the region, ahead of party conference season.
In his keynote speech this afternoon Corbyn drew attention to the “cruel Saudi war in Yemen” and Bahrain’s “crushing of democracy” at the party conference in Brighton, which Saudi Arabia was barred from attending. Labour’s criticism came as leading Bahraini human rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab’s trial for tweeting on Yemen was today postponed again, this time until 19 November.
Thornberry likewise condemned the two Gulf states for their human rights violations during her speech on Monday, criticising the UK government for its silence “when it is their friends in Bahrain rounding up, torturing and executing civilian protestors or their friends in Saudi Arabia dropping cluster bombs on innocent children in Yemen.”
Corbyn today said that human rights must be “at the heart of our foreign policy”. He continued: “Democracy and human rights are not an optional extra to be deployed selectively. So we cannot be silent at the cruel Saudi war in Yemen, while continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, or the crushing of democracy in Egypt or Bahrain, or the tragic loss of life in Congo.”
The Labour leader has repeatedly called for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia in light of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment of Yemen. This week it was revealed that Saudi Arabia had sent letters threatening states who are calling for an independent investigation into human rights abuses in Yemen.
This month, the UK’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon revealed a new military and security cooperation agreement to aid Saudi forces. Thornberry criticised Fallon in her speech on Monday, saying of the UK Government: “In fact, if they were just silent that would be an improvement. Instead, we have to listen to Michael Fallon saying that the thousands of children killed and injured by air strikes in Yemen are just a consequence of Saudi Arabia ‘defending itself’.”
BIRD welcomes Labour’s pledge to prioritise human rights in foreign policy. Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said: “Labour must now follow up these pledges with vocal support for democratisation in the Gulf and with demands on the UK Government to suspend its opaque technical assistance to Bahrain. We urge Labour to scrutinise the Government’s disastrous foreign policy and to loudly hold Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to account for their human rights abuses.”