President Obama Fails to Address Reform With Gulf Leaders, Widens Trust Gap with Civil Society

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First said that President Obama’s failure to directly raise human rights reform with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders at Camp David today does not counter violent extremism and threatens long-term stability and security in the region. Today’s discussion focused on weapons systems and coordinating defenses against Iran and other external threats. The organization notes that this omission will have serious implications in the region in the weeks and months to come.

“President Obama says strong civil societies are a matter of national security, but when it comes to opportunities to take a decisive step in meetings like this one, human rights concerns get trumped by new military arrangements,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.  “Instead of having the promised tough conversations with Gulf leaders, the White House has traded protecting civil societies for closer military ties with their repressive rulers. This decision will only further widen the massive trust gap between the United States and human rights leaders in the region.”

The GCC leaders leave Camp David with assurances about greater military cooperation and political support but without being called on how their repression fuels violent extremism. Human Rights First has urged the president to make clear to America’s Gulf allies that the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of U.S.-GCC cooperation depends on respect for human rights in GCC countries. Human Rights First  notes that the failure to speak out against repression in the Gulf today will likely enable greater crackdowns by GCC leaders against peaceful dissidents the region.

“President Obama has lined up with the government repressing us,” said a human rights defender living in the Gulf, who cannot give his name for fear of reprisals. “His failure today to  address the suffocation of civil society in the Gulf encourages the dictators to do it more.”

Among those hosted by President Obama today were Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, whose Interior Ministry is responsible for the country’s targeting of dissidents, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who runs the United Arab Emirates’ feared State Security Apparatus. Also in attendance was Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from Bahrain, where today leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab had a six-month jail sentence confirmed by an appeal court after he tweeted criticism of the regime.

Human Rights First’s call for action was supported yesterday by a bipartisan group of 45 members of Congress, who urged President Obama to raise human rights issues during today’s meetings with the GCC leaders. The call came in a letter to the president sponsored by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s policy blueprints outlining how the United States should promote stability and security in the Gulf region: How to Counter Terrorism by Supporting Civil Society in the United Arab EmiratesHow to Build a More Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Relationship with Saudi Arabia; and How to Bring Stability to Bahrain.


Published on May 14, 2015


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