Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2.
A live blogathon organised by Grace Dyas (above left) of Amnesty International Ireland to raise awareness of the plight of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair.
Raif was jailed for 10 years and publicly flogged in 2012 after starting a website for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia while Waleed, a human rights lawyer, was arrested in 2014. Both men are on hunger strike.
Supporters and bloggers, including Broadsheet on the Telly‘s Vanessa Foran (above right) and middle pic from left: Kieran Clifford, Louise Conway and Valentina Lops called on King Salman and Saudi authorities to free Raif and Waleed “immediately and unconditionally”.
A protest outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy against the country’s bombing and blockade of Yemen. Over 14 million people are reportedly at risk starvation due to the Saudi-implemented humanitarian blockade.
Readers may recall the recent controversy over Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
And the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan refusing to say if Ireland voted for or against this inclusion.
In the Dáil.
Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly suggested that Ireland did vote for Saudi Arabia’s inclusion and that it did so because of the arms export licences that Ireland issues to Saudi Arabia.
Clare Daly: “It is clear, despite that it has not been publicly acknowledged by Government, that Ireland voted for Saudi Arabia to be part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The question beggared belief with many people, given Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights and human rights.
“Maybe the answer lies in the question in front of the Minister about the massive spike in the licences issued – documented in the report published by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation about arms exports – in 2015 and the first six months of 2016 to the Saudi Arabian alliance, which has been involved in the bombardment of Yemen.
“What is going on in a neutral country, particularly when all of the weapons involved are in category ML5? It includes very serious activities, such as bombing computers, gun-laying equipment, weapon control systems and so on.”
Mary Mitchell O’Connor: “The EU has a range of sanctions in place in respect of countries engaged in conflicts. All licence applications are considered having regard to these measures. Sanctions can include arms embargoes and various restrictive measures including prohibitions on the provision of targeted goods and services. My Department observes all arms embargoes and trade sanctions when considering export licence applications. There are no EU sanctions in place in respect of Saudi Arabia.
“All export licence applications, whether for dual-use or military goods, are subject to rigorous scrutiny, and are considered in the light of the spirit and objectives of the 2008 EU Common Position on Arms Exports. My officials are in regular contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on export licensing issues. They consult with that Department in respect of all military export licence applications. My officials seek observations on any foreign policy concerns that may arise in respect of a proposed export. Such factors are subject to review in the light of developments in a given region.
“Any observations which may arise from this examination are considered in the final assessment of any licence application. My Department may refuse an export licence, following consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other EU and non-EU export licensing authorities, as appropriate. As indicated in the annual report, my Department issued one military export licence with Saudi Arabia as the ultimate end-user. This was in 2015 in respect of category ML5 military products, which includes electronic control devices and components.
Daly: “There has been no movement since I asked the Minister the question last time, except for the 1,200 dead Yemeni children, the tens of thousands injured and the 4 million suffering from acute malnutrition.
“I asked the Minister about the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, which prevents sale of arms to a country if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law. We know that the British Parliament, on a cross-party basis, has recommended the suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, until a UN-led investigation into violations of human rights is concluded.
“The UK is not even a neutral country. We are.
“We should be leading on these matters, particularly when it is also the case that we should be careful about selling arms to countries with links to terrorism. We know from Ms Hillary Clinton’s emails, no less, that Saudi Arabia arms ISIS. It is ridiculous that we continue to issue arms export licences to this country which is involved in war crimes. It is not good enough.
“I did not ask the Minister about an arms embargo and do not want to hear about it. Why, against that backdrop, would we not institute a presumption of denial policy, which could be brought in overnight and put us to the forefront on these very important human rights issues?
Mitchell O’Connor: “The Deputy mentioned export licences. I said one military export licence was issued. We do not export arms. The key consideration in dealing with military export licence applications is to establish if there are concerns with the end-user or proposed end-use. This process may include consultation, as I outlined earlier.
“My Department consults with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In addition, end-user certificates are always required as a further control measure. End-user certificates provide information on the proposed transaction. They certify that the company will be the final recipient of the goods being exported and include an undertaking that the goods will not be used in connection with weapons of mass destruction.
“Individual licences are valid for the export of a specific quantity of goods to a specific end-user within a 12-month period. A new application must be made for any exports above that provided for on the original export licence. All new and repeat licence applications are subject to the full export licensing scrutiny process. All licence applications are considered in the spirit and objectives of the 2008 EU Common Position on Arms Exports.”
Daly: “Does the Minister presume that it is a coincidence that we have gone from zero arms sales to Qatar and declining arms sales to the UAE to a significant uptake in both of those figures in 2015? All of the arms exports to Saudi Arabia were in the category of ML5. That category includes weapon sites, bombing computers, gun-laying equipment and weapon control systems.
“These are not incidental bits of hardware. The issue of the destination and final end use actually makes no difference to our obligations under the EU common position, which states that if there is a risk of this military technology or equipment being used in the violation of human rights, then they should not be exported. That is the question that is being asked.
“It does not really matter if the weapon components stop off in another country on their way to Qatar. Our obligations in that instance are the same. I ask the Minister to look at the issue of a presumption of denial within the Department whereby, even as an interim measure, we could take a step and institute overnight that if anybody from these countries applies for a licence to export arms to Saudi Arabia, they can be refused. The Government has not dealt with that. I must ask the Minister about it. We are talking about lives, war crimes and a violation of human rights.
Mitchell O’Connor: “The information I have in front of me outlines that there was one military export with Saudi Arabia as its final end user destination. These were not for the production of arms. Sometimes they are components for helicopters and Jeeps. I do not think the Deputy can jump to the conclusion that we are exporting arms or components for arms. I do not think that the Deputy can do that at all…”
Daly: “That classification is there.”
Mitchell O’Connor: “…because our Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade take an extreme view and make sure that the applicants are denied if there are any questions to be asked in that instance.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with HRH Crown Prince Salman, Deputy Premier and Minister for Defence during visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2014
Further to the mass execution by Saudi authorities of Shia dissidents…
A recent paper published by Donnacha Ó Beacháin [Senior Lecturer in Politics/International Relations, and Director of Research at the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University] recalled Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s five-day trip to the Middle East in January of 2014 which saw him visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Collectively the three economies had an estimated annual GDP of €1.2trillion, and Ireland had exported goods worth €626 million to Saudi Arabia in 2012. The taoiseach was joined on the trip by Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation (and former rival for the Fine Gael party leadership) Richard Bruton and over 100 senior executives from 87 companies…
Economics and trade dominated the taoiseach’s meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman. Eager to impress their hosts the delegation frequently made improbable comparisons between Ireland and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Patrick Moynagh, special advisor at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, said that pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Saudi Arabia were ‘not that different given [their] backgrounds as colonised nations and the influence of an orthodox religion’.
The taoiseach warmed to this theme and told the Saudi Minister for Higher Education that the two states had a shared history of colonialism, famine and emigration.
The objective, however, was less to swap parallels in the long but overlooked history connecting Ireland to Saudi Arabia than to secure additional Saudi students for Ireland.
A staggering 150,000 Saudis study overseas on the King Abdullah scholarship programme, of which 2,700 were enrolled in Ireland as of 2014, and the taoiseach said the figure would soon rise by another 500.
Human rights also were discussed, though not in the manner that might be expected. After the meeting the taoiseach said that he had congratulated the prince on his kingdom’s recent election to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC), though this obscured the fact that there had been no election per se given that Saudi Arabia’s candidature was approved without a contest.
It also masked the reality that Saudi Arabia, unlike neophyte Ireland, was a veteran member of the UNHRC having been a member since its inception in 2006 without any amelioration of its appalling human-rights record.
By stating that ‘Ireland obviously will work with Saudi Arabia in terms of human rights and their participation on the council’, the taoiseach implied that the two countries would work together at the UNHRC to fight for human rights in third countries, rather than addressing imperfections in their own states.
Addressing questions regarding the marginalisation of women in Saudi Arabia, the taoiseach stated that he had spoken to some female university lecturers during his trip, before admitting that they lectured at women-only universities.
The Fine Gael leader also said that he had ‘congratulated the Saudis on their leadership in terms of moderation here in the Gulf region and their desire for a peaceful situation on a lot of very complex and technical issues’.
This statement was at odds with the view of Saudi Arabia familiar to many western observers. An absolute monarchy where political parties are banned, Saudi Arabia has long been a negative force in the region, a huge financial backer of Islamic fundamentalism and eager to suppress any democratic impulse in the Middle East, as demonstrated when it sent troops to neighbouring Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Trials and sentencing can be arbitrary, while public floggings and beheadings are a weekly occurrence for crimes such as blasphemy, ‘losing the faith’ and practicing witchcraft.
Meanwhile, In Qatar…
The taoiseach encountered similar questioning on his approach to raising human-rights issues in the Middle East when he arrived in the tiny absolute monarchy of Qatar.
In proclaiming that projects such as the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar ‘will be catalysts for broad economic expansion in the host countries and beyond’, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade de-emphasised the well-documented exploitation of migrant workers (a remarkable 90% of Qatar’s workforce is imported from abroad), many of whom live in slave-like conditions; Amnesty International reports that workers have been dying at the rate of one per day while building the FIFA stadia in which theWorld Cup soccer matches will be played.
Asked about scandals surrounding the exploitation of South Asian workers, the taoiseach responded by saying that, “my assumption is that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities and I expect that to be the way…the instinct here is that the stadia to be provided will be absolutely world class.“
By the time the Taoiseach arrived in Abu Dhabi, coverage of his trip inI reland was becoming bogged down on the issue of human-rights abuses in the Gulf States.
Asked if the interests of making profits were being put before human rights, the taoiseach responded that trade and investment opportunities were the priorities for the mission, and that while Ireland had ‘always been very consistent in highlighting human rights issues’, it would do so ‘at the appropriate forum’.
Asked if he specifically mentioned human-rights concerns in his meetings with either Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or Qatar’s prime minister, the taoiseach replied that he was on a trade mission and that the focus of the tour was to promote the ‘credibility and integrity’ of Irish companies.
Minister Bruton adopted a similar line of responses and emphasised that while Ireland raised human-rights issues through the EU and UN, ‘our focus here is exports and jobs’.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, whi has died at 90
…Months before his death, Abdullah may have been alarmed by sensational stories about his daughters allegedly imprisoned in the palace. His divorced wife and the mother of the daughters, al-Anoud al-Fayez, brought the story to the attention of British media after several years of silence.
It may be good to be king in a region where the Arab masses rejected their presidents. However, Abdullah will be remembered as someone who survived the wave of change, propped up by “black gold”, in his own kingdom by distributing largesse and repression and helped to reverse the prospect of democracy in the Arab world.
He is believed to have had around 30 wives, 15 sons and 20 daughters.