UK ‘has not checked’ whether Saudi police training led to torture

September 22, 2016

Image of a beheading occurring

The UK has failed to check whether training it has provided to Saudi police has contributed to abuses including torture and the death penalty, new research by human rights organization Reprieve has revealed.

Since 2009, the British College of Policing has provided training to officers from the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, which oversees policing, prisons, and executions in the country. Human rights organization Reprieve has discovered that the College has carried out no checks that would establish whether human rights abuses, such as torture, have resulted from the training.

Documents obtained by Reprieve through Freedom of Information requests show that the College has never evaluated whether the project has contributed to abuses – despite admitting that there is a risk that the skills taught could “be used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses.”

The FCO and the College have previously said that they would reconsider the training “if [it] is shown that any skills that have been provided have been used in human rights violations.” However, the new documents obtained by Reprieve show that the only evaluation carried out by College since 2009 is a feedback form filled out by Saudi police officers.

In the documents, the College says it is “not possible” to evaluate whether the training has had a positive impact on – for example – the behaviour of Saudi officers, because the UK has not been “asked to do so by the customer [the Saudi Ministry of the Interior].”

The failure to carry out such assessments appears to be at odds with the College’s usual procedure, which – according to the documents – requires “all [UK] projects relating to the training of overseas law enforcement” to be subjected to an in-depth evaluation of their impact.

Police torture is widespread in Saudi Arabia, including the use of forced ‘confessions’ to convict alleged political protestors and juveniles. Three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – are facing beheading after they were arrested in the wake of protests in 2012. All three were tortured by police into ‘confessions’ which were used to sentence them to death in secretive trials, in a court overseen by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior.

The FCO has told Reprieve and MPs – most recently, earlier this month – that it has received assurances from Saudi Arabia that the three juveniles will not be executed. However, Reprieve has expressed concerns that at least one other juvenile, Ali al-Ribh, has been executed this year, after being arrested and tortured in similar circumstances. Reprieve has called on the FCO to demand that the Saudi authorities vacate the death sentences handed to Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, and release them.

The latest revelations about the College of Policing’s work follow the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent raising of strong concerns about the Saudi training. In a report released in June, the Committee concluded that, in light of the Saudi project, the government’s system for assessing the human rights risks of foreign assistance programmes – the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidelines – may be “not fit for purpose”.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“It’s a scandal that the Foreign Office and the College of Policing have never checked whether their Saudi police training has resulted in rights abuses such as torture. Make no mistake – we’re talking about a country where children are being sentenced to death on the basis of ‘confessions’ they signed under torture, and where it is a crime to protest against the Government. The Foreign Office says it ‘doesn’t expect’ Ali, Dawood and Abdullah to be executed – but vague assurances are not enough. The Foreign Secretary must urgently call for the juveniles to be released – and he must suspend the Saudi police training for as long as these terrible abuses continue.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The latest College of Policing documents obtained by Reprieve are available on request. Previous documents – where the College notes the ‘risk’ of the Saudi training – were unearthed by Reprieve in June 2016, and can be seen here.

3. See the Reprieve website for further detail on Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, as well as Ali al Ribh, who was among 47 people executed on a single day in January 2016.

4. The FCO’s latest comment on the three juveniles’ cases, made earlier this month, can be seen here.

5. The Home Affairs Select Committee report on the College’s activities, published in June 2016, is available here, while the Government’s response, published last week, can be seen here.