A US State Department report on human rights for 2018 acknowledged that government agents carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, but it’s failure to mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in relation to his death, is likely to be viewed as an ongoing balancing act to appease Donald Trump. The US president has continued to back the de facto ruler despite the conclusion of his own intelligence community who believe that MBS had authorised the killing.
Saudi King Salman has pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank, however, Riyadh’s performance on human rights, mentioned in the report, throws serious doubt in its promise to bring the killers of Khashoggi to justice. The State Department found that in a number of cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, which they believed contributed to an “environment of impunity”.
The annual report is submitted to Congress by the Department of State. It claims to place a moral restraint on US trade with autocrats by requiring American foreign and trade policy to take into account the countries’ performance on human rights before doing business.
The close ties enjoyed by despots and autocrats in the Middle East with the US suggest that human rights have not been a consideration in its policy. Saudi Arabia is one of several states singled out for its abysmal human rights record. The report found that “many of those executed during the year had been convicted in trials that did not meet international minimum fair trial standards; those sentenced to death are often convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture; denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret.”
Details of enforced disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities were featured in the report as well as examples of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. Torture techniques employed by Saudi security officials include: sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah; electric shocks, whipping and “forced kissing”.
Moral restrain is also lacking in US relations with Egypt. The report expressed “concerns over government limitations on association, assembly”. It said that government restrain on free expression “severely constrained broad participation in the political process”. Restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, were described as having a “negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections”.
Amongst the human rights issues mentioned in the report included: “unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including government control over registration and financing of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is accused of failing to “comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity”. Government or its agents are said to have “committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including incidents that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.”
There has been no progress in holding those responsible for state violence after 2013, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the 2013 dispersals of the sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza. Instead the parliament “approved a law giving the president authority to immunize military commanders against prosecution for crimes committed between February 19, 2011 (suspension of the 1971 constitution) and January 23, 2012 (the seating of parliament) and between July 3, 2013 (suspension of the 2012 constitution) and January 1, 2016 (seating of the current parliament). They also have future immunity against prosecution for any crimes that may occur during the suspension of the present constitution and in the absence of a parliament”.