Saudi Arabia and Human Rights
By Cathy Chen
Rights and freedoms are arbitrary, but immensely important, issues nearly impossible to quantify. However, with its meticulous methodology, the FreedomHouse Foundation annually compiles a report on human rights throughout the world, ranking each country on a scale of 1 to 7 for civil liberties and political rights. A ranking of “1” signifies a “free” nation while a score of “7” denotes rampant oppression and an essentially complete lack of freedom. Of the 208 nations analyzed, a mere nine nations received a “7” in both civil liberties and political freedom – earning their spot on the selective “Worst of the Worst” list created by FreedomHouse. Many of these nations – Syria, North Korea, Somalia – have distinctively tense relations with the United States, yet not all of them experience disapproval from the American government. Saudi Arabia, with its distinction of being on that selective list, has maintained cordial relations with the United States and received the perks of a tight relationship with United States policymakers.
The State Department of the United States government astutely notes that “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States”, praising the “longstanding security relationship” between the two nations. James B. Smith, American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, highlighted the shared “charitable impulse to aid the less fortunate” pointing out that “our relationship is more than just trade, it is a partnership” in his March 2013 article. The 74 billion dollars in trade between the two nations, including the tens of billions of dollars in arms deals, are a fantastic example of globalization, an epitome of cooperation between two nations thousands of miles away. The flow of capital between the nations help both the United States and Saudi Arabia. While the United States adamantly condemns the human rights abuses in China and Egypt (both failing to make FreedomHouse’s “Worst of the Worst” list), its comments regarding Saudi Arabia are deeply hidden on the State Department webpage: the “US bilateral relations fact sheet” holds no mention at all of human rights. A page last updated in December 1992 observes that “Saudi Arabia has been cited by several international human rights monitoring groups for its alleged failure to respect a number of basic rights.”
This attitude does not reflect international responses to Saudi abuses. Phillip Luther of Amnesty International declares that “this cat and mouse game authorities in Saudi Arabia are playing is, simply, outrageous”, regarding the arrest and beating of peaceful protesters in Saudi Arabia. The Human Rights Watch reveals that all Saudi women require permission from male guardians to travel, work, or study, that women still are disenfranchised, and that Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world to still prohibit women from driving. Saudi Arabia executes civilians accused of witchcraft and sorcery, and utilizes amputation of limbs as punishment for theft. It has truly earned its spot on FreedomHouse’s exclusive list.
Does it matter, when America allies itself with such a government? If the Americans receive ample oil, thriving trade, and security cooperation, does it matter if civilians half a world away suffer? Does morality even have a place in political exchanges between entire nations?
Political commentator Karl Lindemann observes that “the Saudi government, along with its Gulfi counterparts, is one of the most hated regimes in the Arab world … arguably the most brutal of Arab dictatorships, much more so than Assad’s ever was [and] the most staunchly pro-West”. Fareed Zakaria elucidates that the people “look at American policy in the region as cynically geared to America’s oil interests, supporting thugs and tyrants without any hesitation”. Maybe that’s why Saudi money “has flowed into Al-Qaeda’s coffers”, why 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th came from Saudi Arabia. When civilians suffer from constant suppression, when they see their friends and neighbors disappear to the human rights abuses of a government, they inevitably turn against that government and its supporters. America is only hurting herself by aiding a government that abuses the rights that the United States then espouses to the world. Rather than concentrating solely on combatting existing terrorists with any allies available, she must figure out where that terrorism stems from, that oppression leads to desperation and anger that all comes out in the end. Most importantly, the United States and its government must carefully consider how morality weighs against other interests.
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