Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Global Human Rights Abuses - How Washington Turns a Blind Eye

Every year, the United States Department of State releases its analysis of human rights across the globe.  The 43rd annual Country Reports on Human Rights for 2018 contains a great deal of information about nations, both advanced and developing, throughout the world. 

One of the most interesting but not terribly surprising aspects of the report is the cover letter, signed by current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  Here is a screen capture of the entire letter:

In my opinion and given Washington's rather inconsistent global diplomatic track record when it comes to human rights, this is the most interesting line in the letter:

"The policy of this Administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S. interests."

In light of Washington's massive $110 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia that was announced in May 2017 and the nation's further investments in the United States as shown here:

"After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business." (my bold)

...let's look at what the report has to say about the Saudi record when it comes to human rights, particularly its use of the death penalty.  Here is a lengthy quote from the Executive Summary:

"Human rights issues included unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents. There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

Government agents carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. King Salman pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank. Several officials were removed from their positions, and on November 15, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) announced the indictment of 11 suspects. The PPO announced it would seek the death penalty for five of the suspects charged with murder and added that an additional 10 suspects were under further investigation. At year’s end the PPO had not named the suspects nor the roles allegedly played by them in the killing, nor had they provided a detailed explanation of the direction and progress of the investigation. In other cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.

The country continued air operations in Yemen as leader of a military coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 forceful takeover of the Republic of Yemen’s government institutions and facilities by Houthi militias and security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on a number of occasions, and the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, reported that some coalition airstrikes caused disproportionate collateral damage. Houthi-aligned militias carried out cross-border raids into Saudi territory and fired missiles and artillery into Saudi Arabia throughout the year, killing and injuring Saudi civilians. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, established by the Saudi government and based in Riyadh, investigated allegations of civilian casualties, published recommendations, and in some cases promised to provide compensation to affected families, although no prosecutions occurred." (my bold)

Here is what the report has to say about the implementation of sharia law in Saudi Arabia and its consequences for its citizens:

"Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal. The government, however, frequently implemented capital punishment for nonviolent drug trafficking offenses. According to the governmental Saudi Press Agency, the country carried out 145 executions as of December 19, 57 of which were for drug-related offenses. Three of those executions were carried out in public." (my bold)

Here is what the report has to say about the implementation of death sentences:

"Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them, punishment--including the imposition of capital punishment--is subject to considerable judicial discretion.Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing a lesser sentence to the death penalty.

Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific.

Many of those executed during the year had been convicted in trials that did not meet international minimum fair trial standards,according to NGOs such as Amnesty International. Amnesty noted that “those sentenced to death are often convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other mistreatment, denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret, and are not kept informed of the progress of the legal proceedings in their case....

The government also imposed death sentences for crimes committed by minors. According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), at year’s end eight individuals on death row were minors when detained, or at the time they committed offenses” (my bolds)

Given that an appeal can result in the imposition of a death sentence when one has received a lesser sentence certainly would prevent individuals from seeking an appeal of their sentence.

According to Amnesty International's death penalty database, there were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), third highest in the world as shown on this graphic:

Saudi Arabia was also responsible for the second highest number of executions related to drug offences as shown here:

Let's take a very brief look at the Saudi's use of torture.  Here is what the report states:

"The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.

Multiple human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. In November HRW and Amnesty International reported that some female right-to-drive activists arrested in May and June were subjected to torture and sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah. Human rights organizations and Western media outlets reported the women had been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and forced kissing.

In a September SCC hearing attended by diplomatic representatives, three defendants reported their confessions had been forced after they were subject to abuse including beatings, sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods, and food deprivation. In a June report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson called on authorities to investigate allegations of the torture of detainees. While noting the country had “suffered numerous terrorist acts” and had a duty to protect its citizens, Emmerson said he had “well-documented reports” of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officials against individuals accused of terrorism, as well as the use of coerced confessions." (my bold)

Doesn't the last paragraph sound familiar in light of the U.S.-led War on Terror that ended up with this:

You have to love the double-talk, don't you?

Apparently, Secretary of State Pompeo is right, it doesn't really matter what human rights violations take place, Washington really is prepared to make "deals with the devil" if it benefits "the homeland".  In the case of Saudi Arabia, it certainly appears that Washington is able to turn a blind eye when it comes to the use of capital punishment and torture as long as the Saudi royal family is willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States, an investment that will create jobs for Americans.

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