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 Friday.
The study spanned key areas relating to human rights, including non-discrimination, counter-terrorism, migration and the refugee crisis, conflict, the United Nations (UN), the international criminal justice system, torture prevention, the death penalty and countries deemed to be “a priority” with respect to human rights.
The report highlights grave injustices and human rights abuses concerning the death penalty, including the execution of teenagers sentenced to death for supposed criminal offenses they carried out as children. It criticizes Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran for this practice in particular.
Juveniles on death row
The human rights report also draws attention to the plights of Dawood al-Marhoon, Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher, all of whom were handed death sentences as under-age minors 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, warning that the majority of those killed in Iran had been convicted of drug-related crimes.
Human rights charity Reprieve has previously criticized Western complicity in these executions, connected to counter-narcotics operations. However, the UK report fails to draw attention to its own glaring complicity.
Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team Maya Foa welcomed the report’s denunciation of what she described as “the dire human rights situation” in states such as Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but said 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.”
Neither Egypt nor Bahrain were noted in the FCO’s 2014 report as states “of concern” where human rights are concerned. However, both were included in the 2015 report. Reprieve notes, however, the FCO’s language has been softened in this context, flagging “priority countries” rather than “countries of concern.”
While the FCO’s report listed Britain’s 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 FCO told RT its opposition to the death penalty applies to all states, including allies.
While its 2015 human rights report acknowledges that the draconian punishment was abolished in Nebraska in 2015 – and Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington State have put in place moratoria – criticism of the US criminal justice system’s use of the penalty is almost non-existent in the report.
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 measure 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 multiple states, including Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt and the US. The government body also works intimately with lawyers hired by UK citizens on death row, and is supported in this respect by Reprieve and the Death Penalty Project (DPP).