After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, should South Africa still be selling arms to Saudi Arabia?

In the wake of the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there has been a lot of pressure on Donald Trump over America’s relationship with the kingdom.

We also trade with Saudi Arabia.

According to CNN, Turkey may have evidence that the journalist was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate.

Trump told CBS that if it turns out to be true that Saudi Arabia murdered the journalist, the US would level ‘severe punishment.’

Just what that ‘severe punishment’ would be is questionable, considering that he wasn’t willing to commit to sanctions or cutting America’s arms trade with the kingdom, claiming such measures would harm American jobs.

This is in line with the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, who is so horrified at the reports that she’s still attending a Saudi conference according to CNBC.

“Human rights, freedom of information are essential rights. And horrifying things have been reported and I am horrified,” she said.

“But I have to conduct the business of IMF in all corners of the world, and with many governments,” she added.

So in other words she’s so horrified she might just give Saudi Arabia a good talking to, rather than actually doing anything. I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots.

Particularly as this isn’t the only human rights abuse to be reported on regarding Saudi Arabia in the past week. The UN has recently called on the kingdom to release its women’s rights campaigners.

These campaigners were protesting for the recently won right to drive, as well as the right to vote.

Its experts called on the kingdom  “to immediately make the whereabouts of these five human rights defenders known and to grant them access to their families and lawyers.”

One of these women,  Israa Al-Ghomghan, is facing execution despite not being granted a lawyer during her trial.

America is not the only state that trades arms with Saudi Arabia, according to IOL South African arms have been used by Saudi in Yemen since 2015.

Just for reference, that is the year when Saudi Arabia bombed Doctor’s Without Borders.

“All warring parties, including the Saudi-led coalition (SLC), are regularly informed of the GPS coordinates of the medical sites where MSF works and we are in constant dialogue with them to ensure that they understand the severity of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and the need to respect the provision of medical services”, says Raquel Ayora, Director of Operations according to MSF.

“There is no way that anyone with the capacity to carry out an airstrike or launch a rocket would not have known that the Shiara hospital was a functioning health facility providing critical services and supported by MSF.”

IOL also reported that foreign affairs minister Lindiwe Sisulu confirmed on Thursday that Saudi Arabia had approached South Africa to buy a stake in Denel.

In July Cyril Ramaphosa celebrated managing to secure a $10 billion commitment to invest from the desert kingdom according to EWN.

Saudi Arabia has long had a terrible record for human rights abuses, including sentencing blogger Raif Badawi to 1000 lashes for “insulting Islam”.

Footage leaked in 2017 showing him being flogged. This is not for sensitive viewers.

According to the UK’s Independent, a man known as Ahmad Al-Shamri was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2017 – for the crime of being an atheist.

Saudi Arabia is so sexist it was recently a matter of celebration that it started allowing women to drive, and is no stranger to racism according to al Jazeera.

My Take

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records on the planet, and yet we all turn a blind eye to it, including in South Africa.

I have seen a lot of reports of pressure on the UK and America over its trade with the desert despots, but nothing about pressure on our government.

This is despite the fact that our government has been approached with an offer for a stake in its arms manufacturer Denel.

In South Africa we celebrate the fact that sanctions were applied to us – as those sanctions spelled the death of Apartheid. We celebrate the fact that people eventually just wouldn’t trade with a nation that had crimes against humanity as its central legal framework.

We sell weapons to a nation which bombs hospitals, which kills people for not believing the things the state says they should believe, which sentences feminists to death without giving them access to a lawyer for fighting for the right to vote, that sentences people to the lash for religious disagreements, that may have murdered and dismembered a journalist for writing critically about it.

We expect the US or UK to do something here, to cut trade relations at the very least, but we’re approaching Saudi Arabia asking for their business.

Why isn’t Cyril Ramaphosa getting the same tough questions we expect Western leaders to answer?

  • Picture courtesy of GCIS via Flickr,

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