President Obama Pressed to Raise Human Rights Concerns During Saudi King’s Visit

Washington, DC – As President Obama prepares to host King Salman of Saudi Arabia this Friday, Human Rights First is calling on the president to raise human rights concerns during the bilateral meeting. In a letter to President Obama, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino warned that the human rights violations condoned and facilitated by Saudi Arabia, both in the kingdom and throughout the region, pose serious threats to America’s security interests and run counter to U.S. ideals.

“For too long, successive U.S. administrations have ignored the detrimental impact of Saudi Arabia’s disregard of human rights at home and support for sectarianism and authoritarianism abroad. These policies have played an outsized role in fueling the many human rights crises that now confront the United States and the international community in the Middle East. At your meeting we urge to make clear, publicly and privately, that just as respect for human rights must be at the core of strategies to confront extremism, human rights issues will no longer be a peripheral element in the bilateral U.S.-Saudi relationship,” wrote Massimino.

Human Rights First’s letter presses the president to make clear that the United States does not accept Saudi Arabia’s stance that silencing non-violent dissent helps to combat the threat of terrorism. The organization encouraged President Obama to call for the release of jailed human rights defenders and other peaceful critics of government policy, and for the Saudis to amend or repeal the kingdom’s sweeping and repressive counterterrorism law.

In addition, the letter calls on President Obama to urge King Salman to put an end to sectarian incitement in official school text books and in the teachings of officially supported extremist preachers. Massimino noted, “Saudi Arabia has a troubling record of condoning and facilitating sectarian incitement though official school text books and through the officially supported statements of extremist preachers, who frequently make statements that defame other religions and promote violence against Shi’ites. Heightened sectarian divisions, to which Saudi Arabia has contributed, encourage the sectarian violence carried out by extremist groups like al-Qa’eda and ISIL. These tensions are a major contributory factor to serious conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere in the region, and Saudi Arabia has a leading role to play in defusing them. We urge you to press King Salman to do more to put an end to these dangerous and destructive policies.”

The letter also urged President Obama to call on Saudi Arabia to cooperate with the United States and the international community in promoting political reform and inclusive political change to ease polarization and restore stability throughout the region.

In March, Human Rights First issued the blueprint “How to Build a More Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Relationship with Saudi Arabia,” which detailed the need for the Obama Administration to press the Saudi government to stop its crackdown on civil society, speak out against sectarian incitement, and promote foreign policy that is not antagonistic to human rights.


Published on September 2, 2015


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