Correspondence between the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons, United Kingdom Parliament, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Letter to the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from the Clerk of the Committee, 23 September 2003
The Committee wishes to receive a memorandum on the services provided by the FCO to the six British nationals who recently returned from Saudi Arabia, following their arrest, conviction and subsequent pardon for serious offences, which they have denied committing. In particular, the Committee wants to know what support was given to these men while they were in custody, when they were allegedly subject to torture and when confessions were extracted from them under duress; and what representations were made to the Saudi authorities.
The Committee would hope to receive the memorandum not later than Wednesday 8 October.
Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Parliamentary Relations And Devolution Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 13 October 2003
Thank you for your letter of 23 September, which requested a memorandum on the services provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the British nationals who recently returned from Saudi Arabia, and on the representations made to the Saudi authorities.
I enclose a memorandum. We understand that the Committee might in due course publish this. As the memorandum refers to the men's consular matters, we would like to provide them with a copy of the memorandum now. It is very likely that the men would seek to make the content of the memorandum public as soon as they have a copy. We would be grateful for your views on this.
1. One of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's core functions is to provide consular assistance and support to British nationals overseas, and information and advice to their families. In the case of the British men recently returned to the UK after being detained in Saudi Arabia, we provided consular assistance and support to them and their families throughout their detention. In doing so, the Government made repeated and vigorous representations to the Saudi authorities at official levels and at the highest political levels in Saudi Arabia and in the United Kingdom. The men's welfare was our paramount concern throughout.
2. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is guided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, in providing consular services to British nationals overseas. This provides for a right for British consular officers to have access, and provide consular assistance, to British nationals in detention in their consular district, who wish it. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which Saudi Arabia and the UK are both parties, enables consular officers to check on the welfare of British nationals in detention and assist them to appoint a lawyer.
3. Following a bombing in November 2000, which killed a British national, a number of British men were detained in Saudi Arabia. Further bombings and detentions followed. On first learning of these detentions, we immediately sought consular access to the men. We pursued our right to consular access through official level contacts with the Saudi authorities both in person and through formal diplomatic notes, and through high level political contacts both in Saudi Arabia and in the United Kingdom. British Embassy consular officials visited the men as soon as they were allowed access.
4. Consular access was only secured after repeated representations. It was restricted in terms of the length of the visits and of the range of topics which could be discussed. We complained about these restrictions to the Saudi authorities in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, in official level and political contacts, in person and via formal diplomatic notes. British Embassy consular officials visited the men regularly throughout their detention and acted as a channel of communication between the men and members of their families. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in London and Riyadh kept in close contact with their families and briefed them on consular visits.
5. We raised with the Saudi authorities on many occasions a variety of specific concerns about the men's case and repeatedly asked the Saudi authorities to explain the reasons for the men's detention. We sought clear information about the judicial process and its outcome; and raised with the Saudi authorities our concerns about its lack of transparency.
6. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's remit is to provide consular services to British nationals overseas. However, on the men's return to the United Kingdom, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office offered further assistance on an exceptional basis.
REPRESENTATIONS TO THE SAUDI AUTHORITIES
7. Throughout this case, the British Government made representations to the Saudi authorities at all levels, official and political. The men's case was raised by many, including:
the Prime Minister, repeatedly and at the highest levels in person and through messages;
the Foreign Secretary, in detailed discussions with senior members of the Saudi government;
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and senior officialsincluding Baroness Scotland, Baroness Amos, Brian Wilson, Mike O'Brien and Baroness Symonswith the Saudi Ambassador to London, and when they met senior Saudis in London or elsewhere;
the Defence Secretary, HRH the Prince of Wales and Members of Parliament;
HMA Riyadh, unrelentingly with senior members of the Saudi government;
HM Consul in Riyadh and British Embassy officials, tirelessly with Saudi officials.
8. During this time, consular assistance and support was also provided to a significant number of other British nationals in Saudi Arabia, including some detained or questioned by the Saudi authorities.
9. Helping British nationals in distress overseas is one of the most important elements of this Government's foreign policy. Our work in providing assistance and support to the men detained in Saudi Arabia and their families reflects the significance the Government places on dealing with consular cases.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office