Convenient truths? UK govt lambasts Egypt, Iran over death penalty but virtually silent on US

© Stephen Hird
Britain’s Foreign Office (FCO) has lambasted Bahrain, China, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia over their draconian use of the death penalty, but has failed to extend the same level of scathing scrutiny to the United States.

The government department made the criticisms in its annual human rights report, published on Friday.

The study spans a number of key areas concerning human rights, including non-discrimination, counter-terrorism, migration and the refugee crisis, conflict, the international criminal justice system, torture prevention, the death penalty and countries deemed to be “a priority” with respect to human rights.

It lays a spotlight on human rights violations concerning the death penalty, such as the execution of teenagers sentenced to death for supposed criminal offenses carried out as children. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran are criticized, in particular, for this practice.

Juveniles on death row

The FCO's report draws attention to the plights of Dawood al-Marhoon, Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher, who were handed death sentences as kids for alleged offenses relating to political protests. 

In addition to this, it casts light on the significant rise of executions in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, stressing that the majority of those killed by Iranian authorities had been convicted of drug-related crimes.

Human rights charity Reprieve has previously criticized Western states for complicity in these executions via counter-narcotics operations. This complicity features nowhere in the FCO's report, however. 

Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team Maya Foa welcomed the FCO's denunciation of what she described as a "dire human rights situation” in Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But she insisted the government must act on its rhetoric.

“These three countries have presided over an unprecedented wave of executions this year – including of non-violent drug offenders, political protesters and those arrested as children,” she said.

“We welcome the FCO’s commitment to avoid British involvement in such abuses through cooperation with these countries’ law enforcement bodies. We now need to see real action and specific targeted interventions to back up these words – human rights must not be deprioritized in favor of other interests.”

Convenient truths?

Neither Egypt nor Bahrain were noted in the FCO's report, published last year, as states “of concern” with regards to human rights. However, both were included in the study released on Friday.

Reprieve notes that the FCO’s language has been softened in its latest report, which cites “priority countries” with respect to human rights rather than “countries of concern.”

While the FCO ranked UK allies Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as countries whose human rights records require scrutiny, the US did not feature on the list.

A spokesperson for the government body told RT its opposition to the death penalty applies to all states, including allies.

The FCO's most recent human rights report notes that the death penalty was abolished in Nebraska last year, while Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington State have put in place moratoria. Despite this fact, criticism of the US criminal justice system’s use of the measure is almost non-existent in the study.

According to Reprieve, there are currently 525 people on death row in the US. While the group welcomes the fact citizens will no longer be executed in Nebraska, it is calling for an end to all executions across the US and beyond.

US drone warfare

The Obama administration has also been sharply criticized by human rights campaigners for its covert drone warfare, which inflicts untold misery and human suffering in some of the world’s most crisis-ridden states.

These drone strikes are shrouded in secrecy, carried out in remote or volatile regions, and are conducted generally in the absence of judicial oversight against presumed terrorists. However, little is heard in the West of the innocent civilians’ lives that are shattered in their wake.

As 2015 came to a close, 12 British nationals faced the death penalty in states across the globe.

The FCO states in its report that it unequivocally opposes the policy and intervenes in an appropriate fashion to stop the execution of British nationals where possible.

This intervention includes high-level political lobbying and formal representations on behalf of UK citizens in states such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt and the US. The FCO also works intimately with lawyers hired by UK citizens on death row, and is supported by Reprieve and the Death Penalty Project (DPP) in the process.