Canada continues to partner with Saudi Arabia despite its egregious human rights record.
Saudi Arabia refuses to budge on jailed blogger’s sentence
It has been a year since Raif Badawai was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes, as well as being ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals for “insulting Islam.” The young blogger was arrested in June 2012 after allegedly criticizing the Saudi Arabian kingdom’s clerics on his website. Although the international spotlight did lead to at least a temporary cessation of the public floggings, Raif Badawi still languishes in jail and the Canadian government remains silent.
His wife has recently called on Saudi Arabia’s powerful royal family to grant him an “amnesty” allowing him to leave the country and rejoin his family in Canada, where they fled shortly after he was arrested.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is consistently ranked among the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights. Canada should be using its influence to press for the unconditional release of Raif Badawi and all the other peaceful activists jailed for speech-related crimes under a flawed and grossly unfair justice system.
Canada still goes through with $15 billion arms deal
Ottawa has recently issued export permits in relation to light armoured vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia announced in 2014. We have now learned that Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has not done a human rights assessment of Saudi Arabia in the past 2 years.
Federal export controls require that, in the case of arms sales to countries “with a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens,” Canada must first confirm that the arms would not be used against the buyer’s civilian population.
Instead, as Canadian arms trade expert Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares has pointed out, “the government has authorized a $15 billion sale to the Saudi army without due diligence and in particular any attention to the human rights situation in a country that is notorious for human rights abuse.”
Foreign Affairs had no comment on why it is issuing export permits for the fighting vehicles without human rights assessments. Canada’s inaction stands in sharp contrast to the cancellation by Sweden and, earlier, Germany, of their arms deals with Saudi Arabia, in light of its egregious behaviour.
Saudi Arabia’s alleged use of cluster bombs in Yemen
A Saudi-led coalition stands accused of using internationally banned cluster munitions while bombing Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. Canada is not part of that coalition, but it is allied with Saudi Arabia in a US-led coalition that is currently engaged in air strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.
As a state party to the UN treaty banning cluster munitions, Canada has an international legal obligation to publicly warn Saudi Arabia against the use of weapons that Human Rights Watch states “should never be used under any circumstance because of their long-term threat to civilians.”
A principled Canadian foreign policy
If Canada is ever to regain the moral high ground, then we must cease our laissez-faire relationship with Saudi Arabia and instead establish an immediate moratorium on arms exports to that country and open a dialogue with the Saudis on how best to move forward with fundamental democratic reforms.
See also the earlier article by Peggy Mason entitled Saudi Arms deal makes a mockery of Canadian values (Embassy News, 21 January 2015).
Photo credit: DND