President Joe Biden must fulfil his promise to put human rights at the centre of his first visit to the Middle East and North Africa since taking office and do everything in his power to press for immediate and substantive change, Amnesty International said today.
Between 13 and 16 July, President Biden will visit Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to meet several leaders, including Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Biden administration must stop its brazen support of shocking crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by its allies, knowingly facilitating rampant abuses with impunity,” said Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA Executive Director.
If the US continues on its current course, it will only embolden abusive governments to further silence dissenting voices, oppress minorities and ruthlessly crush the rights of millions of people in the region.Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA Executive Director
“President Biden must seize this opportunity to prioritize the advancement of human rights over short-term interests, and make clear that there can be no double standards when it comes to promoting human rights. If the US continues on its current course, it will only embolden abusive governments to further silence dissenting voices, oppress minorities and ruthlessly crush the rights of millions of people in the region.”
Israel, the OPT, and the Palestinian authorities: US-backed apartheid
The killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank on 11 May provided a stark reminder of the crimes committed by the Israeli authorities to maintain their system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and of the US’s role in shielding Israel from accountability. Unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, collective punishment and forced displacement occur in the context of a system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel and the OPT.
The Israeli government has forcibly displaced entire Palestinian communities and demolished hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homes. In Masafer Yatta, in the southern West Bank, and in Ras Jrabah, in the Naqab/Negev area of Israel, residents are at imminent risk of forced displacement. During the latest armed conflict in the Gaza Strip in May 2021, Israeli forces committed apparent war crimes, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. Hospitals, homes and other essential infrastructure cannot be rebuilt because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza since 2007.
“The lack of accountability for the government of Israel’s serious violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, is perpetuated by US policy. Instead of providing cover for impunity, the US must support independent, thorough, and credible investigations into these crimes, such as that opened by the International Criminal Court,” said Paul O’Brien.
The Biden administration and US Congress must stop the supply of arms to the Israeli military until it is guaranteed that such equipment would not be used for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Palestinian authorities continue to repress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Security forces responded to protests against the torture and killing of Nizar Banat, a political critic, on 24 June 2021, with the use of unlawful force, arrests and torture and other ill-treatment.
Saudi Arabia: Vicious abuses behind shiny façade
Saudi Arabian authorities continue their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and movement. By mid-2021, most human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, independent journalists, writers and activists in the country had been arbitrarily detained for their human rights work or social media activity.
Amnesty International documented 30 cases of Saudi Arabian activists and human rights defenders who were sentenced following grossly unfair trials – most often by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) – to imprisonment to be followed by travel bans. Relatives of activists have also been subjected to unofficial travel bans without any judicial orders or notification.
More than three years after the state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his family have no information about the whereabouts of his remains while all those involved in his killing have not been held accountable.
Amnesty International urges President Biden to pressure Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all activists and human rights defenders held for peacefully exercising their human rights, lift all arbitrary travel bans imposed on them and their family members for the purpose of punishing, intimidating and silencing those who dissent and disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.
The United States must stop supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen. Amnesty International has investigated dozens of air strikes that have unlawfully killed and injured civilians and repeatedly found and identified remnants of US-manufactured munitions.
Egypt: Deep-rooted human rights crisis
Egypt’s human rights crisis is characterized by entrenched impunity for unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearances; mass arbitrary detentions; repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; discrimination against women and girls, LGBTQ+ people and members of religious minorities; and a crackdown on human rights NGOs through travel bans, asset freezes and other draconian tactics to shut down civic work. Despite this, Egypt remains one of the largest long-term recipients of US military aid.
In recent months, authorities released dozens of prisoners held for political reasons but thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained while arrests of peaceful critics continue unabated.
Amnesty International urges President Biden to press Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in public as well as privately, for meaningful and long-lasting human rights reforms, starting by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights or for reasons of discrimination.
President Biden must also urge the Egyptian authorities to close once and for all criminal investigations into the work of human rights NGOs, known as Case 173/2011, lift all arbitrary travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders, and guarantee a safe environment for human rights organizations.