UK's Labour Party rejects Saudi Arabia's application to attend conference

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Labour says that Saudi Arabia is not invited on basis of war crimes committed in Yemen, prompting the Arab League to boycott the event

File photo of Saudi air strike hitting Yemen's capital, Sanaa (AFP)
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Tuesday 19 September 2017 7:43 UTC
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The Labour Party has rejected Saudi Arabia’s application to attend its annual conference, prompting the Arab League to boycott the event.

A Labour spokesperson told Middle East Eye it had refused Saudi’s application on evidence of committing war crimes.

"Following evidence of war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in its bombing campaign in Yemen and other large-scale human rights abuses, the NEC agreed that the embassy's application to attend the Labour Party Conference would not be accepted,” they said in an email.

In a letter published by the Huffington Post on Thursday, the London Office of the League of Arab States wrote to MPs that it had cancelled an annual reception and buffet dinner at the conference because Saudi Arabia and Sudan’s applications to attend were rejected.

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“Our Council has decided to refrain from attending the Labour Party Conference this year due to the rejection of both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s and the Republic of Sudan’s applications to attend the conference,” the letter said.

The reception is an annual event at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences, hosted by the Council of Arab Ambassadors. The group includes all the UK’s Arab ambassadors who meet regularly to discuss British Arab relations, and can generally depend on an invite to the major party’s annual conferences.

Khalid el-Mubarak, a spokesperson for the Sudanese Embassy, said the group came to the joint decision to withdraw from the conference.

“This is serious because Labour is seen historically and traditionally as sympathetic to former colonies,” he said. “There are double standards here.”

Sudan has not been invited to the Labour conference since 1994 but the new exclusion of Saudi Arabia prompted action from the council, he explained.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned arms sales to Saudi Arabia and called for a ceasefire in Yemen, provoking the ire of representatives of Saudi Arabia. Last October he confronted Theresa May on Saudi’s continued holding of a seat on the UN human rights council, citing its treatment of women and the continued bombing of Yemen.

The Labour Party did not offer further details of why Sudan has been barred from the conference. The country’s President Omar al-Bashir is subject to an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for crimes in Darfur, where government forces have routinely killed, raped and attacked civilians, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in an ethnically driven campaign of violence.

The League of Arab States did not respond to a request for comment.