By Mohammad Mazhari

Trump not caring about human rights in Persian Gulf Arab states: human rights activist

July 13, 2020 - 11:39
Sarah Leah Whitson says reforms in Saudi Arabia have come “in a package of repression”

TEHRAN – A former director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch says the Trump administration does not care about the human rights records of Persian Gulf Arab countries, noting Donlad Trump “cares only about selling weapons and making a profit.”

Some states in the Persian Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are continuing repression against other Arab nations, especially Yemen, while global institutions like the UN stand idly by without any active reaction.  

“Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE are closely tied to the United States and major clients of the United States regarding arm sale and purchases,” Sarah Leah Whitson tells the Tehran Times.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate the reforms which Muhammad bin Salman talked about in Saudi Arabia?

A: Regarding the reforms in Saudi Arabia, particularly about the women’s rights, I think these reforms are good but long overdue, and it is very embarrassing that it took so long for the Saudi government to do such basic things for a woman such as driving permission, allowing women to travel without a permission of a man, but obviously a lot remains to be done: To bring Saudi Arabia into harmony with where the globe is with respect to equal rights to women.

“The United States in the (UN) Security Council has operated as Israel’s agent.”However, unfortunately, these reforms in Saudi Arabia have come with a clear message to the Saudi people that it is only MBS (Muhammad Bin Salman) who decides what reforms should be made and when to make and how to make, and he has chosen to punish Saudi citizens who have dared to call for very same reforms, even ones that he himself has promoted. In fact, it is a reform with autocracy, reform that comes with a clap in the face of the Saudi people that say only I decide what changes to make in this country. So, it is profoundly undemocratic, profoundly autocratic.

Q: Has he actually made real reform, or just exploit it to strengthen his position in the autocratic political system? 

A: I don’t think it’s true what you just said. They are important reforms and welcomed reforms. I am very glad that these reforms happened. However, these reforms have come in a package of repression. They have come with a very clear message that the Saudi civil society, the men and women in Saudi Arabia, have no role in deciding what reform is taking place. So, they are an absolute part of his exercise of monolithic power.

Q: We are talking about Bin Salman’s reforms, while a lot of Saudi human rights activists are in jail. What is your comment?

A: Yes, we have a lot of activists in jail in Saudi Arabia; unfortunately, it’s a disease of the Middle East (West Asia). It’s a disease of our region to have activists demanding reform in jail. It is very sad to know that Saudi Arabia is not alone in jailing human rights activists. We have writers, intellectuals, academics in jail that is sad and disease for the region. 

“He (Trump) cares only about selling weapons (to Persian Gulf Arab states) and making a profit.”Q: How do you assess Saudi policies in Yemen? The United Nations chief removed the Saudi-led coalition from his latest “list of shame” despite continued grave violations against children in Yemen.

A: I think the UN secretary-general is really digging himself in this institution. When the UN secretary-general allows people, allows nations to buy the list of shame, the UN secretary-general does great harm not only to the list of shame, which is incredibly important for exposing countries that are causing the most harm to children but to the institution itself. I would rather say that they didn’t have any list of shame. When you have a list of shame that you can buy yourself, offer, and that is exactly what Saudi Arabia did. Still, under Ban Ki-moon, they threatened to cancel their funding to all of the UN agencies unless it was removed from the list of human violations, and obviously, that is the same financial threat that Saudi Arabia has made to force secretary-general to remove it from list of shame. 

Q: Do you think that the United Nations and Western countries are neutral toward issues in West Asia, especially the Palestine conflict?

A: No. Obviously not. The United Nations is controlled by the Security Council and what make the matters worse is that the United States in the Security Council has operated as Israel’s agent and Israel defender by blocking implementations of any Security Council resolution that has been proposed. It has been vetoing multiple times to protect Israel from accountability with respect to its abuse of Palestinians. It is, of course, not alone again. Russia repeatedly uses its veto, and there has never been a measure for accountability for the persecution of genocides of Muslims in China because China will use its veto. It is tragic that most intuitions around the globe are supposed to make an effort for peace, and a few superpowers just control Security Council. 

Q: Why are Western countries silent toward Bahraini protests and violations of human rights there? Why do they continue to export arms to the country? 

A: Western countries are not silent. The people in the West, the independent news establishments, the independent human rights organizations are very focused on Bahrain and the government’s repression in the country. A list of death penalty verdict announced a few days ago against the number of young Bahraini men in deeply flawed trials marked by serious allegations of torture and forced confession.
However, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE are closely tied to the United States and major clients of the United States regarding arm sale and purchases. In particular, Trump’s administration does not care about the human rights records of these countries, and he cares only about selling weapons and making a profit.

Q: After U.S. exit from international agreements and bodies such as the WHO and UNESCO, can we expect the collapse of international treaties?

A: They are not going toward collapse with this administration. I don’t think the rest of the globe will quit WHO or UNESCO or Human Rights Council for that matter. I can only hope that there will be a new U.S. administration that would soon restore American participation and use important global mechanisms.

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