A wide-ranging assembly of human rights advocacy groups has told Joe Biden they have “deep concerns” about the president’s scheduled meeting next month with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The 13 groups who wrote a joint letter to Biden last Thursday include the Human Rights Foundation, Freedom House, and The Freedom Initiative. The letter points out Saudi Arabia’s continuing involvement in the civil war raging in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The letter said that if Biden takes steps to repair relations with Saudi Arabia “without a genuine commitment to prioritize human rights,” he will be betraying his campaign promises and emboldening the Saudis to go further in violating humanitarian law and international human rights.
The letter urges Biden to direct his administration to secure such Saudi progress before agreeing to meet with its monarch in a way that would make his government more secure in its actions. The group listed six essential criteria that should be met to ensure such progress. They call for the release of all political prisoners, allowing women to be free of male guardianship, and ending legalized discrimination.
Human Rights Watch Middle East director Lama Fakih told reporters last week that Biden “should recognize that any meeting with a foreign official provides them instant credibility on a global stage, whether intended or not.”
Biden’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia is scheduled even as tensions are still high following a CIA report in 2018 that indicated Salman was personally involved in authorizing the capture and murder of Khashoggi.
The American journalist was a well-known critic of the policies of the Saudi royal family. He was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by contractors paid and controlled by Saudi government officials. Salman has not wavered in his denials of having any involvement in the murder.
Khashoggi’s former fiancee Hatice Cengiz has described the Saudi denials as “a complete mockery of justice.” She said their government officials had closed the case without the world having the true information about Khashoggi’s death.
Salman has also served as Saudi defense minister during the country’s involvement in Yemen. Human Rights Watch alleges that he has overseen war crimes that have killed untold numbers of Yemeni civilians.
The Saudi government executed 81 men in March, even though it has promised in recent years to reduce its use of the death penalty in its criminal courts.
The Saudi government has also been criticized in the U.S. recently for its sponsorship of a new international golf tour. The LIV Golf Invitational Series is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and conducted its first tournament this weekend in London.
The LIV tour has enticed a number of U.S. professional golf stars with multimillion-dollar contracts, including Masters winners Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. The Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon has received some sharp criticism for leasing the use of its course and facilities to the Saudi enterprise for the entire Independence Day weekend next month.
The Biden-Salman meeting was originally planned for this month before being rescheduled to July.