Saudi Arabia and Sweden clash over human rights violations

human-rightsThis is truly great news, Saudi Arabia is starting to really feel the heat and Sweden is leading the charge. The UK’s Guardian reports …

A clash between Sweden’s progressive foreign policy and the harsh realities of the Middle East has escalated with Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal of its ambassador after Stockholm tore up an arms trade agreement between the two countries.

Accusing Sweden’s foreign minister of “flagrant interference” in its internal affairs, the Saudi foreign ministry said it was recalling Ibrahim bin Saad al-Ibrahim in protest over Sweden’s criticism of its human rights record, which it said was “harmful to the kingdom”.

Comments by Margot Wallström, the foreign minister, represented a “flagrant interference in internal affairs, which is not accepted in international conventions,” it added, according to an official statement carried by state news agency SPA.

Stockholm was apparently bounced into terminating its decade-long weapons memorandum with the Saudis after they blocked Wallström from making a speech on human rights to Arab leaders.

OK so here is how things played out.

  1. Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, who had been invited as the guest of honour was due to give a speech to the Arab League. This speech was critical of the on-going and systemic human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
  2. Saudi Arabia say the text of her speech in advance and stopped her from delivering that speech
  3. In response, Sweden tore up their long standing arms trade agreement with Saudi Arabia
  4. In response to that, Saudi Arabia withdrew their ambassador from Sweden

The actions of Sweden are truly praise worthy, they stand high above all other nations and have put human rights way above profit in their list of priorities, and that stance should not simply be praised, but should also be emulated because it would lead to a far better world very very rapidly.

So here is the score so far for Sweden …

  • Sweden recognising Palestine – Tick
  • Sweden now refusing to be silenced and bullied by Saudi Arabia when it comes to criticising human rights – Tick

The prevailing understanding in the west has always been that Saudi Arabia was beyond criticism because they were our “friends” (Hint: they have the oil), and so a blind eye was consistently turned to their gross human rights violations (they rank as the worst of the worst).

The really good news here is that this is just the beginning

“Saudi Arabia and other countries start losing their edge as the main political voices on behalf of the Palestinians,” said al-Ahmed. “A country like Sweden can now come in and say, ‘Hey, Riyadh, what have you done for the Palestinians lately?’ “

Sweden’s decision came after months of “nail-biting,” reports Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky. But it’s likely just the start of a larger European conversation regarding the ethics of dealing with Saudi Arabia.

So what about the UK, we still sell them Arms?

The usual excuses pop up when discussing all this … we need to ensure stability, we need to preserve jobs, etc… and yet when examined and put under the spotlight, these excuses do actually fall apart. David Wearing, a PhD candidate researching UK-Saudi-Gulf relations at Soas, has done just that in a truly excellent article

What of the jobs that we’re told would be endangered if we adopted the exotic policy of not selling arms to despots? As my colleagues at Campaign Against Arms Trade (I’m a member of its steering committee) have shown in a recent report, the skills and resources involved in the British arms industry could easily be transferred to the design and production of renewable energy technologies, for which there will be a huge worldwide demand in the decades to come. And in terms of genuine defence needs (as opposed to state militarism), what greater known threat is there to human security than the prospect of runaway climate change?

One doesn’t have to hold up Sweden as a utopia to recognise that here we have an example to learn from, on economics and now on foreign policy. The thin excuses have long since run out. It’s time to stop arming Saudi Arabia, and rethink our role in the world while we’re about it.

So will the UK do the right thing?

Probably no, because the UK’s ethical and moral stance was bought and paid for rather a long time ago … and yet … that was then and this is now, the curve of the moral arc leads ever upwards and beyond, away from where we once were. Look back and see where we once were and how far we have come since then, and so there rests hope, because if we sustain our progress away from our aggressive militant imperialism at the current pace, then we can indeed also consider that thought that taking such an ethical stance is no longer as politically unacceptable as it previously was.

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