Interests Trump Human Rights for Western Leaders
Joe Biden came to office determined to take a firmer line with the strongmen and autocrats beloved by Donald Trump. He had a particular enmity towards Prince Mohammed bin Salman who waged a ruinous war in Yemen, and locked up or killed his critics. on the campaign trail, in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”. He has since refused to speak to the crown prince directly, liaising instead with his ailing father, King Salman. Shortly after arriving in the White House, Biden released US intelligence findings – suppressed by Trump – which concluded that Prince Mohammed approved the operation targeting the Washington Post journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. yet Riyadh has been one of Washington’s closest strategic partners for decades for a reason that no US president can ignore. Therefore, Biden has heard the siren song of the kingdom’s vast oil reserves and visited the Saudi Prince: the war in Ukraine has unleashed chaos in global oil markets, and he can no longer refuse the call.
In another development, Reuters reported that the Biden administration is discussing lifting the ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. Such a decision could increase the risk of US complicity in serious rights violations in Yemen, especially since the Saudi Arabia- and United Arab Emirates-led coalition has failed to meaningfully investigate apparent war crimes or to hold those responsible to account. since the beginning of the war in 2015, Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented how the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition has used US weapons in apparent unlawful airstrikes, including apparent war crimes.
Therefore, renewing US offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia would further undermine Biden’s promise to prioritize human rights in US relations with the country.
On the other hand, the American position on the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, has been passive from the beginning. There was no strong action on the crime, compared to the response when other American victims have been killed in other parts of the world. the US State Department’s announcement that independent investigators were unable to reach a final conclusion after a carful forensic analysis of the projectile that killed Abu Akleh is expected. the killing of Abu Akleh may constitute a war crime; therefore, a transparent and independent international investigation must be opened to determine the truth, based on the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016). in addition, journalists and rights advocates have slammed the UK government for signing deals worth over £180 million ($250 million) with Egypt whilst brushing over the issue of the ongoing severe human rights violations in the country. in a joint statement following a recent meeting between the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, the ministers agreed to work intensively to grow bilateral trade and investment, yet little was said about human rights in the country.
For the weeks preceding this meeting, the families of political prisoners in Egypt have called on Truss to urgently press the question of human rights with Shoukry as 60,000 people remain detained in Egypt for their political views. on the other hand, amid the backdrop of rising energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron's search for alternative supplies seems likely to reinforce France and the UAE’s already close ties. While the UAE has made considerable efforts to portray itself as rights-respecting, the reality is much bleaker giving the country’s internal and external atrocious human rights record. in December 2021, France agreed to the sale of 80 Rafale fighter jets to the UAE. While the country has played a prominent role in conflicts abroad (Yemen and Libya), where its own forces and those it backs have been responsible for significant abuses.
In myriad legal and illegal ways, Western governments are complicit in supporting, and thereby strengthening, autocracies across the Arab world, for their leaders have failed in addressing serious human rights violations in these countries by turning a blind eye to the challenges of the people of this region in favor of fulfilling their own interests.