British foreign secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday dodged a volley of questions from parliamentarians on her government's ambiguous stance on Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record while describing the kingdom as a “partner.”
Truss faced the grilling at a foreign affairs committee hearing, when asked about the Arab kingdom’s rights record by Labour MP Chris Bryant.
On being asked whether Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman was responsible for the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Truss sufficed to say that Saudi Arabia is an "important partner of the United Kingdom.”
Washington Post columnist Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince. The CIA has concluded that the murder was ordered by the Saudi de-facto ruler.
The top British diplomat’s failed attempts at deflecting the question on Khashoggi’s diabolic murder came days after she asserted that London had to serve as a “robust counterweight to authoritarian regimes.”
“Eighty-one executions in one day in Saudi Arabia, and you don’t think that’s an authoritarian regime?” Bryant pressed, referring to the execution of 81 people in Saudi Arabia in a single day in March.
Truss again withheld her answer, saying her main focus was on, what she called, “the threat from Russia,” adding, “It is important to build a close trading relationship with the [Persian] Gulf states” as the UK was trying to wean itself off Russian oil imports.
“If a country is an authoritarian regime, it’s fine to do business with it as long as the authoritarianism is only within its own borders, is that right?” Bryant continued, to which Truss again brought up Russia and China.
Truss went on to state that she had previously raised human rights concerns with the leaders of the Gulf states, but Bryant said that the foreign secretary's spokesman said that she had done no such thing.
“You can’t remember a single human rights issue that you’ve raised with a Gulf state leader?” Bryant pushed.
The British government opened trade negotiations last week with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
While its original list of objectives for a deal included references to “human rights” and the “rule of law,” these entries were dropped from the final list.
International rights groups, activists, and journalists have extensively documented serious human rights violations in Saudi Arabia since 2017, when Mohammed bin Salman became crowne prince and "the de-facto leader of the kingdom."