12 Jan 2015

Human rights: weapons exports, floggings and extremism

Whenever a communications company, or a defence contractor seeks to sell systems to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and other security sensitive countries,  one or other of the great City law firms is asked to carry out ‘a Human Rights Impact Assessment’ for the British government.

Occasionally the relatively soft document that emerges may allow the communications company to provide the telephony, but, for example not the next stage of intercept equipment. Or a weapons manufacturer may be forced to remove some fancy night vision capacity.

But in general the contracts tend to go through.

My source is a City solicitor who has undertaken many of the ‘Human Rights Impact Assessments’. It’s a casual, old boyish, who-you-know kind of a world, and the primary object is export as much British made stuff as possible. What use it may all be put to is secondary, or so he tells me.

So it is that on the very day upon which the Paris atrocity against Charlie Hebdo was carried out – supposedly in the name of remedying ‘blasphemy’ – one of the most sensitive countries to which we supply ‘sensitive’ equipment was engineering its own remedy for blasphemy.

On Friday, as Jewish shoppers were being held or murdered in a Paris supermarket, Raif  Badawi, a Saudi blogger, was being lashed fifty times in a public flogging in Saudi Arabia.


According to Amnesty International, Badawi has been sentenced to be flogged 50 times for the next 20 weeks to fulfil the sentence of 1,000 lashes. He will be medically treated between lashes to ensure that he survives for the next set.

He will serve ten years in jail and pay a fine of £175,000. There is of course no evidence that any of the equipment used for this punishment is exported from the UK – but we export much of what is used to keep the government there in power. Even the US government has formally complained. I can’t find a record of the UK doing so.

Badawi’s crime was to set up a web site, ‘Free Saudi Liberals’, which reportedly criticised religion and it’s growing influence on the Saudi government. There is no written penal code in Saudi, so the judgement itself is based on the judges’ interpretation of the Quran.

Whether Britain itself enjoys a written code that actually defines what exactly would represent ‘a human right’s impact’ is open to question. But given that the Saudi Kingdom carried out 89 public beheadings in 2011, 59 in 2012, 69 in 2013, and a staggering 26 last August alone, there might be an issue of human rights in play.

Indeed with untold numbers of public floggings, of which Mr Badawi’s is but one, there may be a number of human rights issues in play.

But above and beyond all this in considering a Human Rights Impact, is the export of Wahhabism – the most radical interpretation of Islam on Earth.

Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda acolytes claimed that they preached Wahhabism, as does Boko Haram in Nigeria. Might the Wahhabism  ‘export’, if not officially sanctioned by the Saudi government at the very least taking place on their watch, be seen as having a ‘human rights impact’?

What City law form can conceivably have concluded that the ‘human rights impact’ of exporting anything at all that had a lethal application – from communications to weaponry – as at the least, highly contentious.

In the light of the Paris horror, and other instances of Wahhabi extremism, perhaps it is time the matter of ‘human right’s impact’ testing was brought into the 21st century?

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11 reader comments

  1. Hena Abed says:

    His sentence is an abomination, I am a Muslim, I don’t know what he’s been saying about Islam and I don’t care. I know he was tried for apostasy and was found not guilty.The charges against him are a farce.
    Why are these governments and their religious scholars so afraid of free thought?
    Is Islam that weak, will an open society, rights for minorities, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion deliver it a death blow? These are some of the things Raif wanted in Saudi Arabia. They want to kill him, a slow painful death. 1000 lashes, flogged in batches of 50 every week for 20 weeks. His lawyer has also been imprisoned for 15 years with a 15 year travel ban thereafter I think. He was trying to raise awareness of Saudi human rights abuses.
    He is a prisoner of conscience please can C4 run his story in the news. I know amnesty are supporting him, his family in Canada are also campaigning from there. All of us need to keep his case on the news agenda we need to shame Saudi Arabia into leniency.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    “…human rights impact…”

    Yeah, right.

    And where was Britain’s respect for human rights when the Blair gang stopped the exposure of corruption in the Al Yamamah arms deal? Or when the same people (and their allies of all political parties) lied about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq? Or when they lied about the real reasons for invading Afghanistan?

    And, just as relevant, where was British mainstream media and its “journalists” while all this was going on? When you analyse THEIR behaviour in all this horror they are just as culpable as the mass murderers. Those who stay silent or turn away are just as guilty as those who order the murders or who pull the trigger.

    It is right that all superstitious religion is exposed for the curse it is. But it isn’t the only guilty party. Nor in the current world situation is it even the worst offender. That label is permanently around the necks of the warmongers in Washington, London and all the other European capitals.

    As for the USA…..it doesn’t even recognise the International Criminal Court. And the Israelis have just attacked the Palestine government because it wanted to become a signatory to the ICC.

    So……”Human rights impact”? It would be a good idea if it was anything more than a hypocritical gesture by a gang of lying mass murderers and thieves.

  3. Lesley Taylor says:

    The lawyers involved in this process should refuse to be involved, as should the doctors in Saudi Arabia who collude in this barbaric punishment.

    1. Hena Abed says:

      Lesley you are right. I hadn’t thought of this at all. The doctors colluding in this barbarity. Amnesty on Friday weren’t even sure if he received medical treatment. But how can he endure this for 20 weeks?

    2. Ian mac says:

      lawyers refusing to get involved? they must be getting offered less than 3 pence per hour. do you forger fellow that solicitors solicit?

  4. Philip says:

    oil + £££ – what other reason do you need? The majority aren’t told about what the Saudis get up to in breaching human rights or how they condone a brutal, extreme version of Islam. The media aren’t interested -and the spin put on it will be the usual anti-Muslim one, rather than our complicity in supporting & supplying this unpleasant regime.

  5. Robert Gunning says:

    Has our PM spoken about this poor mans plight or is he to scared to comment??

  6. Hena Abed says:
  7. Hena Abed says:

    Dear Jon and C4 news editiorial team,

    Please, please consider running this on broadcasting news on Friday. You all know better than me the power of broadcasting media even just a 5 minute slot to draw attention to his plight.

  8. David L Gosling says:

    We should tell the Saudi Ambassador to pack his bags and go home

  9. Margaret Brandreth-J says:

    Hena , others have commented about being part of the guilt in the chain of supply of weapons and I do agree with them. It must be a case of it isn’t to their advantage to ask too many questions, however the outright cruelty here is the way that this young man is being treated.This is not punishment; it is a display of cruel torture and misplaced power.To be allowed to torture others is against all human rights.

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