The continued failure of the EU to seriously address the silencing of dissent by members of the GCC suggests an alarming willingness to sacrifice human rights in favour of military and trade alliances.
18 July 2016, Brussels
EU risks making a mockery of its human rights foreign policy if concerns not publically raised with visiting Gulf ministers
As Ministers of the European Union (EU) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) convene to discuss economic and security relations in Brussels today (18 July), Amnesty International is urging the EU to seize the opportunity to push for an end to repression and human rights violations within the GCC states. The organization also asks that the EU publicly calls for the release of all prisoners of conscience with each of the GCC governments, and that human rights concerns be clearly expressed in official statements.
In addition to its Treaty obligations on foreign policy, the EU has made clear commitments to raise human rights issues in its dealings with other countries. Despite this, and in some cases even the face of gross and systematic violations of human rights, the EU and its member states have kept largely silent.
“The continued failure of the EU to seriously address the silencing of dissent by members of the GCC suggests an alarming willingness to sacrifice human rights in favour of military and trade alliances,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
“Whilst ministers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman are welcomed in Brussels this week, scores of activists and human rights defenders across the region continue to face harassment and intimidation. Many are languishing in prison solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
The deafening silence from the EU is especially shocking considering the significant deterioration in Saudi Arabia’s already-dire human rights record both at home and in Yemen. Domestically, Saudi Arabia has been on a staggering execution spree, carrying out more than 350 since November 2013 alone, and has continued unabated its crackdown on all forms of dissent. Moreover, its military coalition in Yemen – which includes all but one of the GCC states – has unlawfully killed and injured thousands of civilians in the conflict, including in attacks on markets, hospitals and schools, some of which may amount to war crimes.
“Given the seemingly complete disregard by Saudi Arabia for human dignity, human rights and its international humanitarian law obligations, it would make a completely mockery of the EU’s human rights foreign policy obligations, should the EU not take a strong stand this week in Brussels,” added Iverna McGowan.
In view of Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic violations of human rights whilst a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and its cynical use of its position on the Council to effectively obstruct justice for possible war crimes in Yemen, last month Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the UN General Assembly to suspend the country’s membership rights in the world’s top human rights body.
In other GCC countries the human rights situation also remains deplorable. In the past months Bahrain has tightened its grip on freedom of expression with multiple arrests and harassment of opposition politicians and human rights defenders. And in the United Arab Emirates, scores of Emiratis and non-Emiratis have been arrested, many arbitrarily, and unfairly convicted. The governments of both the UAE and Kuwait have ignored or legitimized the use of torture and other ill-treatment in the administration of justice.