Human rights and democracy eroding among US allies in Middle East, report says

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry in Washington (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  April 13, 2022

Annual State Department report says human rights and democratic norms continued to worsen in the region in 2021.

The US State Department has said respect for human rights and democratic norms have continued to worsen across the Middle East, with authoritarian states, including Washington’s allies in the region, detaining opponents and activists seen as posing a threat to their rule.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken described what he called a continued “recession” in basic rights and the rule of law over the past year, as he unveiled the US government’s annual assessment of the global human rights situation on Tuesday.

“Governments are growing more brazen, reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics,” Blinken said, as he cited an alleged effort by Iran’s government to abduct an Iranian-American journalist from New York.

The report also laid out a litany of alleged abuses by both allies and rivals, including forced disappearances in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Because the report is focused on trends in 2021, it did not explicitly address Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine

“In his remarks accompanying the report, Secretary Blinken said the ‘United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty’,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn).

“It is hard to square this statement with the US government aiding and arming some of the worst human rights abusing governments in the world.

“The real question we should be asking is why is the US government ignoring its own evidence and laws to continue supporting some of the most abusive governments in the world.”

Sarah Yager, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the report but said it failed to highlight the US’s role in conflicts where civilians have suffered widespread harm, including Yemen.

“Always a little odd to read about other’s human rights abuses as if US had nothing to do with them. e.g. no mention of US support to Saudi [Arabia] in Yemen but the #HumanRightsReport discusses Iran support to Houthis,” she said on Twitter. “No mention of US in Afghanistan or civilian harm caused in Kabul.”

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Israel and Palestine

The human rights reports section highlighted significant human rights issues including credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, extraterritorial detention of Palestinians from the occupied territories in Israel, harassment of nongovernmental organizations and restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem, including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home.

Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 war in defiance of the international community, claiming it as a part of Israel.

The overwhelming majority of East Jerusalem’s 340,000 Palestinians identify as Palestinians and have long sought the city’s east as the capital of a future state.

In recent years, a small but growing number of lawmakers have sought to rein in funding to Israel, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who introduced a bill that would ensure that US military assistance was not used to fund abuses against Palestinians, including the imprisonment of children and home demolitions.

Still, the US has continued to staunchly support Israel despite reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinian “apartheid”.

“The State Department failed to address the findings of the crimes of apartheid and persecution by Israeli, Palestinian, and international NGOs, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Palestine, even as it noted apartheid conditions, such as prosecuting Palestinians held in Israel who are not Israeli citizens under Israeli military law,” Whitson said.

“In stark contrast, the State Department concluded that Israel does not prosecute Israeli citizens that commit similar crimes in the West Bank under Israeli law.”