I have been clear in this House on my concerns about human rights within Saudi Arabia – including the use of the death penalty, and the situation of human rights defenders. I have expressed deep concerns, in this House, in multilateral fora, and directly to Saudi officials, about the way in which the war in Yemen is conducted, by all parties. My Department has also consistently highlighted these concerns in our bilateral contacts with a number of third states which are involved in the conflict, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran.
We have emphasised the need for an end to human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, and for full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access. Most recently, my officials raised our concerns about the situation in Yemen with the Saudi Ambassador, in a meeting last week.
The promotion of human rights is a key element in Irish and EU foreign policy, and there are of course many states around the world in relation to which Ireland and the EU have human rights concerns. In addressing these, we need to tailor the different approaches available to us to different contexts, according to what is most likely to be effective.
Restrictive measures or 'sanctions' are one potential tool of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Care needs to be taken to avoid counterproductive impacts of sanctions, including due to the potential they have to isolate the target country from the kinds of interactions where diverse views are expressed, and minds changed. In most cases, public and private diplomacy is the preferred approach.
There have previously been calls in this house for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia in light of that country’s involvement in the war in Yemen. Some, though not all, of the EU Member States which have arms industries have decided to halt arms exports to countries involved in the Yemen conflict. Although EU consensus on a full EU arms embargo does not currently exist, all EU Member States have signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty.
The Treaty exists to ensure that arms sales do not fuel conflicts, lead to serious violations of international human rights law, or allow arms to fall into the hands of non-state actors or terrorists. It is often more effective to press for the implementation of commitments already made, reminding partners of what they have agreed to, rather than seeking agreement on new measures. Ireland’s efforts are concentrated on ensuring the effective implementation of the Treaty.