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UK: Truss accused of 'misleading' Gulf human rights comments

Prime minister has failed to back up claim in parliament that she personally raised concerns during Gulf visits, Labour MP says
Truss told MPs in June she had "personally" raised human rights with Gulf leaders (AFP)

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has been accused of misleading Parliament after telling MPs she raised human rights issues in meetings with Gulf leaders as foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s government.

In a letter sent to Truss on Tuesday, Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, said she had failed to provide any examples of human rights issues she had raised during visits to the Gulf despite telling the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee she had personally done so when quizzed on the matter by Bryant in June.

'...It is difficult not to conclude that you have deliberately misled the committee, because you did not want to own up to the fact that you knew that you had never raised these issues with Gulf states'

- Chris Bryant MP

Asked then to provide examples, Truss told Bryant she would not go into details of private conversations but would write to the committee with details.

But, according to Bryant, in a follow-up letter to the committee she cited only a meeting in December 2021 with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers at Chevening House, an official government residence traditionally used by the foreign secretary, at which “a wide range of issues were discussed, including human rights”.

Bryant said Truss, the foreign secretary from September 2021 until she succeeded Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister earlier this month, had failed to cite a single instance when she had personally raised human rights with Saudi Arabia or any other GCC state, and accused her of “attempting to pull the wool further over our eyes”.

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He wrote: “In the absence of an explanation or an apology for your inaccurate comments at the Committee, it is difficult not to conclude that you have deliberately misled the Committee, because you did not want to own up to the fact that you knew that you had never raised these issues with Gulf states either in the Gulf or at home.”

Bryant said he was “mystified” why Truss had “refused to raise human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia, especially considering its sponsorship of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its execution of 81 people on a single day”.

Asked by Bryant in June whether she considered Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of journalist Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Truss said: “What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United Kingdom.”

Truss has faced criticism from human rights and arms trade activists over her record as both foreign secretary and formerly as a trade minister when she oversaw the resumption of British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia after campaigners challenged their legality over violations of international law committed by the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.

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Katie Fallon, parliamentary coordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, which brought legal action against the government over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, told Middle East Eye: "The discrepancy between the prime minister’s claim that she has personally raised human rights issues with Gulf leaders, and what she has actually been able to prove, reflects the falsehoods we are told time and time again about the UK’s relationship with Gulf leaders.

"This failure on the part of the government and specifically Liz Truss, has sent a clear signal that the most grievous human rights abuses and killings can take place with impunity as long as international trade continues."

Truss is also the latest minister to be accused of failing to provide straight answers to Parliament over questions of human rights issues raised by British government officials with Gulf states.

Bahraini activists have accused the UK government of evasiveness in response to parliamentary questions and freedom of information queries about whether foreign office ministers raised human rights cases with Bahraini officials.

Middle East Eye has contacted Truss's Downing Street office for comment.

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