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Irish government, companies dance with dictators

Dublin Joe | 15.01.2007 12:22 | Gender | Globalisation | Repression

Ireland's prime minister and a delegation of 114 companies hope to cut a number of deals with Saudi Arabia, one of the world's worst human rights violators.

Ireland's Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is leading a high-level trade delegation to Saudi Arabia this week in an effort to boost business ties between Ireland and this Middle Eastern kingdom.

A number of Irish companies are also taking part in the mission in an effort to drum up new contracts in the region. Trade Minister Micheál Martin, Education Minister Mary Hanafin and Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan are part of the delegation.

They are expected to sign a number of agriculture, investment and education agreements during the trip, which has been organised by Enterprise Ireland.

This economic outreach is despite overwhelming evidence that the Saudi government continues to commit some of the world's most agregious human rights violations.

According to Human Rights Watch, America's long-time partner in the so-called War on Terror regularly uses torture during interrogations, requires women's rights activists to sign oaths not to protest and deny children of the Chadian minority group from access to basic education and emergency healthcare.

Saudi Arabia is also just one of a few countries that hands out death sentences to children (those who commited a crime under the age of 18).

Last week, Enterprise Ireland advised delegates in a letter of the sexist and religiously intolerant "cultural differences" they should be aware of during their visit. It said that women travelling in Saudi Arabia should wear a bay or long cloak when travelling outside the hotel.

Women were also advised not to initiate a handshake, ‘‘unless the handshake is offered by the Arabic person’’. The letter continued: ‘‘Don’t talk about religion or politics, yours or theirs. If you wear a cross, please keep it covered, as outward displays of any religion are not encouraged.”

All members of the trade mission, male and female, were told not to refer to business in Israel "as the reaction can vary from none to strong."

The trade mission started this Sunday and runs through January 19. 114 Irish companies are represented.

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Dublin Joe