President Obama Urged to Raise Human Rights Concerns During Meetings with Gulf Leaders

Washington, D.C. -Human Rights First today urged President Obama to make clear to the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states that progress on human rights is essential to the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of joint efforts to combat violent extremism in the region. The call came in a letter to the president, who is scheduled to meet with leaders from the GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – on May 13-14 in Washington, D.C. and at Camp David.

“Because of their wealth and influence, the GCC states play a crucial role in confronting the multiple crises confronting the Middle East region,” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “We urge you to take the opportunity of the summit meeting with these key American allies to challenge them to reverse policies that have been so ruinous to the region, and which are against their own long term interests.”

Since the Arab Spring protests of 2011 Saudi Arabia and the GCC states, including the United Arab Emirates, have been leading a region wide push back against popular demands for more representative, more responsive government. This has included a Saudi led, GCC supported, military incursion into Bahrain to put down a peaceful protest movement and ample financial and political support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s authoritarian rule in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are using the need to combat terrorism as a pretext to silence peaceful dissent.  They have adopted broadly worded catch–all anti-terrorism laws that are being used to prosecute and jail non-violent government critics. Additionally, Saudi Arabia and other GCC states have cynically exploited anti-Shi’ite sectarianism to build their support bases, resulting in an alarming escalation in sectarian tensions throughout the region.

Human Rights First urges President Obama to press the GCC leaders to:

  • lift restrictions on peaceful dissent;
  • free prisoners of conscience;
  • permit the free exchange of peaceful ideas online and in the media;
  • lift restrictions on independent civil society organizations and free jailed human rights defenders;
  • reform overly broad counter terrorism laws so that they cannot be used to silence peaceful dissent;
  • stop their support for repressive rule in Bahrain and Egypt and to cooperate with the international community in promoting reform and inclusive political change that will ease polarization and restore stability in those countries; and
  • speak out against sectarian incitement and take steps to ensure that extremist clerics are not able to promote hatred of other religions through official institutions and media outlets.

“Close relationships between the United States and the GCC states serve the best interests of all parties.  However, these relationships must be based on more than just narrowly drawn security interests; they must include an approach to advancing regional peace, stability and security that includes promoting respect for human rights and basic freedoms as an essential element in any strategy for overcoming the security challenges and instability currently confronting the region,” added Massimino.


Published on May 12, 2015


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