Our strong relationship with Saudi Arabia allows us to raise human rights concerns through a range of ministerial and diplomatic channels. Ahead of the G20 leaders’ summit, I raised human rights concerns with the Saudi ambassador, including the continued detention of at least five women human rights defenders. The UK also signed the UN Human Rights Council joint statement in September calling for the release of all political detainees. We will continue to raise human rights concerns with the Saudi authorities.
Women in Saudi Arabia now have the right to drive, but some of those who fought for that basic equality remain behind bars. The UK is, as the Minister suggests, Saudi Arabia’s closest European ally, but does he understand why the detention of women human rights defenders by the Saudi Arabian authorities is an important test of our Government’s commitment to defending human rights? Will he call on them to release these women and all political prisoners immediately?
We welcome the improved situation for women in Saudi and encourage the Saudis to continue steps in that direction. As I have already said, we engage on this specific issue at both ministerial and official level and will continue to urge the Saudis to go further.
The Minister knows full well that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is terrible, and many people believe it is getting worse. Now that the G20 summit has been held, what precisely do the Government intend to do to put pressure on the Government of Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists, including women’s rights activists who are being held for fighting for freedoms that we in this country take for granted?
I spoke to the Saudi ambassador about this very issue on 16 November. As I say, it is important that we recognise when progress has been made. Saudi is embarking on a reform programme and we are seeking to ensure that that goes further and faster, but as I said in response to the previous question, we do engage at ministerial level and at official level to encourage the release of women’s human rights defenders.