David Cameron Flies To Saudi Arabia Amid Concerns Over Arms Exports
David Cameron is making his first trip to Saudi Arabia since becoming prime minister, amid warnings from human rights groups and MPs over the sale of arms to the autocratic regime.
Amnesty International said there was a "shocking disrespect for basic human rights" in the country and said it hoped the prime minister had been completely frank and firm with King Abdullah when they met on Friday.
Amnesty's UK campaigns director Tim Hancock, said Cameron should have raised the specific case of one man who had his left foot amputated after being convicted of a crime even though he had no lawyer to defend him.
Hancock also said women were treated as second-class citizens and were frequently at risk of flogging. "If Samantha Cameron were on this visit she would be unable to drive or move around freely without risk of arrest," he said.
Amnesty also said any future arms sales to the regime should take account of Saudi Arabia's behaviour.
“In recent years we’ve documented the indiscriminate bombing of Yemeni villages by Saudi Arabian jets," Hancock said, "So if Mr Cameron is discussing arms deals on this trip he must ensure that they will be subject to rigorous controls and that no equipment is shipped to the country if there is the slightest risk of it being used to commit human rights abuses."
After the prime minister's meeting with King Abdullah a Downing Street spokesperson said the two leaders "agreed to strengthen co-operation in a range of areas."
"The two leaders also discussed recent developments in the region, in particular their shared concerns about the situation in Syria, Iran and Yemen.
"The prime minister also raised our concerns about Somalia and the problems of conflict, piracy and terrorism which threaten Somalis and the wider international community. He briefed the King on the aims of next month's London Conference on Somalia, in particular to catalyse a co-ordinated international effort focused on practical measures to help Somalis rebuild their country."
The prime minister conducted a mini-tour of the region last year, but he did not visit the Kingdom.
That tour, designed to promote democracy, was undermined by accusations that the prime minister was merely flogging weapons to oppressive regimes as the Arab Spring swept across the region.
Cameron was joined on the trip by British business leaders, including representative from the defence giants BAE, Thales and Qinetiq. At the time Britain did suspend arms export licenses to countries whose regimes were deemed to be using unacceptable force against their own people.
Today's trip to Saudi Arabia also comes as a committee of MPs questioned why the government had not blocked weapons sales to Saudia Arabia given unrest earlier in the year.
The committee on arms exports controls asked: "Why does the UK believe that the assurances relating to end-use will not be breached?"
MPs on the committee that scrutinises weapons sales also asked why a license to sell Saudi Arabia technology connected to weapons sights was refused.
Ministers said that there was "insufficient information" provided by the Saudi government as to what the specific end use of the technology would be.
However the government said manufacturer had applied for the wrong type of export license and was advised to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) rather than a Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL).
The committee also published the government's responses to it concerns over the sale of arms to other nations affected by the Arab Spring including Egypt and Bahrain.
The chairman of the committee, Sir John Stanley, said the publication was an important step forward for transparency on arms export controls.
"I believe that both the Committees questions and the Government’s answers, where currently available, will be found to be illuminating," he said.
Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual trade worth £15bn a year. It has £62bn invested in the UK economy.
Unusually for a foreign trip Downing Street had not allowed any press to travel with the prime minister to the Middle East.
The last high profile bi-lateral meeting between the British and Saudi government's was in March when the Saudi foreign minister visited No.10.