Why New Zealand needs to condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights record


This blog was going to be about the detention of female Saudi Arabian activists making a stand for women and a call to petition Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters to speak out. But the same country deciding it is okay to attack a bus full of civilians and the fact that this is a war crime, forced a change.

Saudi Arabia is a country that has long shown open disdain for human rights. It regards them as a “western” concept, perhaps because much human rights law was developed in the West. But western or not, there is nothing humane or proper about attacking civilian targets.

A country that attacks a civilian bus, killing dozens of people including numerous children as Saudi Arabia did a few days ago and thinks that such conduct would horrify many New Zealanders. A country that uses military grade munitions and delivery systems to destroy hospitals, homes and schools would horrify New Zealanders.

It should also horrify people to know that two nations we respect and admire are supplying Saudi Arabia with those munitions and delivery systems. Their names are Britain and United States of America. Both have supplied combat jets and cluster munitions, despite these being subject to international bans – which notably none of the United Nations Security Council permanent five members have recognized, lest it jeopardize the lucrative sale of weapons.

In his valedictory speech as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower made mention of the potential threat posed by the military industrial complex. That was in 1961. It was before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Exercise Able Archer 1983, a host of wars where one could argue the main reasons for having them were nothing to do with national security, humanitarian emergencies or caused by internal strife. What would the former President think today if he could see the current orgy of violence and in particular America and Britain’s role in arming the combatants?

But those nations are not New Zealand. Those nations are not a country in the southwest Pacific with a record of defending human rights.

New Zealand needs to make stand against the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia. Our trade is not so great that we should suffer a crippling blow if the Kingdom throws a diplomatic hissy fit – noting the recall of their Ambassador to Canada, and expulsion of Canada’s Ambassador for having the gonads to tell Saudi Arabia imprisoning female activists is not acceptable conduct. Our reputation for being a nation that champions a fair go and common decency will certainly not suffer from having a bit of steel in our spine.

New Zealand had opportunities to condemn earlier actions by Saudi Arabia that involved war crimes in Yemen. It has had opportunities to speak against the imprisonment of and flogging of activists such as Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 were struck before human rights activism brought enough pressure on Saudi Arabia to desist (so far)in carrying out any further. Unfortunately under the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, securing trade deals was a higher priority than protecting universal human rights.

If Canada stands alone, Saudi Arabia will assume that it is just one country that is annoyed. But if others including, but not limited to New Zealand join in the Kingdom will see that – whether they acknowledge it or not, being something altogether different – war crimes and any other illegal war like acts are not okay.

As for stopping Britain and the U.S. from supplying more weapons to cause more civilian deaths, tragically that is probably going to take them being referred for war crimes to the Hague and a change of Government in both countries.

 

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