Rights groups urges Biden to attach conditions to Saudi visit

Rights groups urges Biden to attach conditions to Saudi visit
US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware on June 2, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
NICOSIA, Cyprus — A coalition of rights groups Thursday urged US President Joe Biden not to visit Saudi Arabia in the absence of commitments by Riyadh on human rights, warning it could encourage "violations.”اضافة اعلان

Biden confirmed last week that he was considering a trip to the conservative kingdom — a stark reversal after he called for it to be made a pariah state during his successful campaign for the presidency.

The oil-rich nation's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stands accused by US intelligence of ordering the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered by Saudi agents in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in 2018.

The accusation is vehemently denied by Riyadh, which has also been accused of wide-ranging rights abuses at home. 

"We urge your administration to secure genuine progress on human rights before acting in a manner that would bolster the status of the crown prince and his government," 13 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, said in an open letter to Biden. 

The crown prince's government "routinely and callously abuses the rights of its own citizens, as well as those of Americans and others around the world," the letter added. 

Biden has prided himself as a champion of democracy against authoritarian regimes, charting a starkly different path from his predecessor Donald Trump, who maintained a chummy relationship with the crown prince.

But soaring energy prices, due to supply chain snarls exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have infuriated Americans and sent Biden's popularity plummeting.

Saudi Arabia has lately addressed two of his priorities by agreeing to a production hike in oil — which could help tame rocketing US inflation — and helping extend a truce in war-battered Yemen, where Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting an internationally recognized government.

"Efforts to repair the US relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia without a genuine commitment to prioritize human rights are not only a betrayal of your campaign promises but will likely embolden the crown prince to commit further violations," the rights groups told Biden. 

The letter urged the US president to insist on key prerequisites ahead of any meeting with the crown prince, including the immediate release of political prisoners, an end to "unlawful surveillance and state hostage-taking," and male guardianship over women.

Since his appointment as crown prince by his father King Salman in 2017, Mohammed has charted a reformist path but has also cracked down on domestic dissent. 

The kingdom has executed some 120 people since the start of the year, according to an AFP count. 

Prince Mohammed was a leading figure in the decision to intervene in the conflict in Yemen, where the war has killed hundreds of thousands.

The Saudi-led coalition has been denounced for air strikes, including on markets and hospitals, that have caused heavy civilian casualties.

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