Saudi Arabia’s recent behedding of 47 dissidents including a prominent Shiite Cleric has attracted world wide attention. The behaviour makes a mockery of the appointment of Saudi Arabia to chair an important United Nations Council involved in human rights oversight. And questions have been asked about the possibility of a secret deal which saw the United Kingdom support Saudi Arabia in consideration of the support being reciprocated.
The Guardian has provided this background article about Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The article includes this passage:
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution by Saudi Arabia has sparked condemnation across the Middle East, rose to international prominence during the pro-democracy protests that erupted in the country’s eastern provinces in 2011.
Nimr’s staunch and vocal support of the movement in regions where the Shia have a majority but have frequently complained of marginalisation, saw the 56-year-old cited as the driving force behind the protests while affording him hero status among Saudi’s Shia youth.
To the Sunni kingdom’s ruling elite, however, Nimr had become a high-profile thorn in its side. Inspired by the Arab spring, Saudi Arabia’s mass anti-government protests of 2011 included public speeches by Nimr that urged an end to the Al Saud monarchy and pushed for equality for the state’s Shia community.
According to his supporters, the cleric was careful to avoid calling for violence and eschewed all but peaceful opposition to the government. On one occasion, he urged protesters to resist police bullets using only “the roar of the word”. As his role in the protests became more prominent, he warned the Saudi authorities that if they refused to “stop bloodshed”, the government’s repressive tendencies risked it being overthrown.
The Government’s response has been predictably underwhelming:
Duty minister Chris Finlayson said New Zealand is a long-standing opponent of the death penalty, and executions are always wrong in all cases and any circumstances.
But the government appears to have rejected the Green Party’s calls to have a free trade deal with Saudi Arabia put on hold.
Finlayson insists the government regularly raises human rights issues during diplomatic talks.
At the least the Greens are showing some moral fortitude on the issue:
Green Party co-leader James Shaw has renewed calls for [New Zealand Saudi Arabia free trade] talks to be suspended.
“The executions are appalling and just another example of Saudi Arabia’s terrible record on human rights. The Greens have been calling for a long time for New Zealand to suspend negotiations on the free trade agreement with Saudi Arabia because we don’t think we should be giving preferential treatment to a country that has this kind of record.”
But Labour’s or at least Davis Shearer’s response has shall we say been disappointing:
Labour foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer did not agree with the Greens on the issue.
“Trading links enables us [to] get a foot in the door to talk about human rights issues that we would not otherwise be able to do if we didn’t have those links. I don’t believe it’s necessarily in our interests to take this stance in banning trading talks with either country.”
Promoting free trade so that our ability to discuss human rights violations with trading partners is frankly silly. And there should be a moral dimension to trade relationships. If a foreign nation is involved in widespread human rights violations then all forms of pressure, including the suspension of trade agreement negotiations, should be available to try and effect change.