Transacting Human Rights

Campaign officer Rosie Frost brings us up to date on York PEN’s new campaign for this term.

Inspired by recent events, this term York PEN will be tackling the issue of human rights and trade.

Looking specifically at Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey, we will be investigating our government’s trade relations with these countries, who have famously poor human rights records, and asking if we should prioritise human rights over trade in foreign policy. Does it make us complicit in oppression? What would be the effect if we did? What additional benefits do these relationships bring?

Saudi Arabia is classed as one of the ‘worst of the worst’ by Freedom House on their freedom index, and is infamous for its terrible human rights record. Raif Badawi is just one journalist currently imprisoned and sentence to 50 lashes due to the liberal content of his blog. Poet Ashraf Fayadh is sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy (consciously refusing or deliberately not abiding by the tenets of Islam.) Yet, Saudi Arabia is Britain’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East. Of particularly concern is the trade of arms, particularly in light of current Saudi actions in Yemen, where Amnesty alleges that UK-manufactured weaponry is being used against civilian targets. In 2015 it emerged that the UK and Saudi Arabia had vote swapped in the UN Human Rights Council elections. While this would be distasteful even if the UK felt it needed the Saudi vote in order to be on the council, this is not the case. It seems to have been done as a diplomatic favour, ignoring all concerns with the state of human rights within Saudi Arabia. This country remains an important political ally in a difficult region for UK politics, but this relationship seems to be coming to the point of straining our willingness to ignore repeated rights violations in favour of economic benefit.

cameron saudiraif protest

China is following a growth before democracy model, and limits freedom of expression of the internet, practices discrimination against minorities, torture, targets human rights defenders and executes more people than any other country. 2015 ushered in the beginning of the ‘Golden Era’ of UK-Chinese relations, with state visits and a selection of trade, tourism and investment deals. Yet 2014 saw the Chinese state repressing and censoring the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.

china pmumbrella hong kong

Turkey, particularly since the refugee ‘crisis’, is a geographical and political ally of Britain. Turkey is a member of NATO, and an important trade partner for the UK and the EU. However, it has previously been named one of the worst places of to be a journalist, and came 149 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index 2015. They have also restricted internet use and continue to perpetrate discrimination against Kurds, amongst other human rights abuses.

turkey pmturkey protest

We will be looking at a separate country each week in our Tuesday evening meetings (6:45 in D/130 today!) and then discussing the issue of UK relations with these states as a whole at a panel talk in week 8 of this term. As well as this, we have a screening of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary which addresses many of the same issues, 7:15 after the meeting on Tuesday 9th February! Would be great to see new faces so if you’re interested, feel free to come down to Yourspace and check out this interesting documentary. With popcorn.


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