While the UK continuously champions itself as an advocate of global human rights and progressive politics, its actual policies and complicity in human rights violations reveal hypocrisy in this narrative.
The annual ‘Human Rights and Democracy’ report further reveals its flawed concerns for universal values and efforts to promote these values globally.
The report covering 2018, prepared for by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), did not pull any punches in its criticism of Iran and Russia when highlighting their abuses and authoritarianism, as well as other countries including Iraq, Libya and Syria, where Britain's profitable trade ties are not as significant.
While the UK would traditionally sanction states for human rights concerns, it whitewashes the actions of its allies committing similar violations, for economic benefit.
The FCO unavoidably provided a section on Yemen, since the conflict is hard to avoid after creating the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” according to the UN, and Britain has a responsibility to address it as Yemen’s pen holder in the UN Security Council.
While focusing on child soldiers and the death penalty, not a word was stated about Saudi Arabia’s role, despite human rights groups and UN reports stating that Riyadh had likely committed war crimes and vastly contributed to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
The report did not even mention Yemen in Saudi Arabia’s section despite Britain having sold billions of dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has shown concern for the Yemen war and has visited Aden and neighbouring Gulf countries to push for peace. Not only have his efforts been lacklustre, but he has also failed even to mention Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflict, as this would involve highlighting Britain’s role and support for Riyadh’s involvement.
Recently leaked emails show that Boris Johnson had pushed for more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia soon after the kingdom had blatantly targeted civilian areas.
“The UK’s long-standing policy is to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle,” the report then stated, though the UK has delivered historic, unconditional support to Saudi Arabia while turning a blind eye to its countless executions.
It provided a lacklustre mention of Riyadh’s recent execution of 37 civilians, nearly all of them from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, despite stating “the UK’s long-standing policy is to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle.”
Britain has whitewashed Saudi Arabia’s crackdown and imprisonment of women’s rights activists and even cooperated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman showcasing himself as a progressive reformer.
The FCO report claims Britain’s support for gender equality “showcases the UK’s leading international reputation in this area," though whitewashed the treatment of Saudi women’s rights activists, stating: “there were some improvements in women’s enjoyment of human rights.”
The UK's National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) also addresses gender concerns in countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia, rather than in those of its wealthy Middle Eastern allies.
The UK released its own ‘Human Rights High Priority’ list last July, with Saudi Arabia listed in it. Yet its own weapons sales to the kingdom shows that it has no problems ignoring the kingdom’s abuses.
Analysts say that a third of Britain’s weapons sales are to countries on its human rights watch list, including those like Egypt, China, Libya, Russia and Iraq which the UN, EU and others have imposed weapons sales restrictions on.
The section on ‘Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ did not mention Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza and its role in the humanitarian emergency there, in which British weapons are likely used, showing the UK’s further misrepresentations of its complicity in violations.
Jeremy Hunt has often criticised Hamas’ projectile firing into Israel while not mentioning Israel’s disproportionate role in the violence, which has been criticised by many human rights organisations and repeatedly by the United Nations.
Amnesty International has also slammed Britain’s hypocrisy over arms sales, while it claims to have the “toughest” and “most rigorous arms control.”
While claiming to oppose torture and support the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), contradicts Britain’s support for the United Arab Emirates, which has carried out systematic torture in its prisons and a network of prisons in Yemen, backed by its militias there.
Meanwhile, it supports and turns a blind eye to other regimes carrying out torture on detainees, including Bahrain and Egypt.
Britain is a leading exporter of torture equipment worldwide. Numerous past reports also show that British intelligence agencies directly carried out against torture against suspects in the ‘war on terror’.
Though the FCO report claimed, “the promotion of democracy and democratic freedoms is at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy,” it has mostly failed to address the ongoing violent suppression of Sudan’s revolution by the military, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE have clearly backed, as well as their suppression of democratic transitions elsewhere such as in Libya and Egypt.
While “raising concerns” of Egypt’s human rights violations, including many death sentences and widespread censoring of media, the report failed to criticise the regime as harshly directly as it had done for other countries, as it has often done in the past.
As British oil companies like BP and Royal Dutch Shell have significant investment deals with Egypt, this explains the half-hearted concern for Egypt’s political situation.
Britain is prioritising profit over concern for global human rights. If the UK wants to be a supporter of democracy and progressive policies, it should revise its support for regimes that continue to trample on them and end its facilitation of human rights abuses.
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