EU’s Human Rights Diplomacy and Saudi Arabia: Seeking Real Change

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Introduction

Saudi Arabia, a nation known for its rich culture and heritage, has come under the global spotlight in recent years due to concerns over human rights abuses. Despite announced reforms, numerous reports, including those from the 2021 US Department of State, Amnesty International’s 2021/2022 report, and the 2023 Human Rights Watch report, reveal that little progress has been made in advancing human rights in the country. This dispatch from the **Tactics Institute for Security and Counter-Terrorism** delves into the European Union’s (EU) approach to addressing Saudi Arabia’s human rights situation and questions the effectiveness of its efforts.

EU Parliamentary Resolutions: A Comparative Analysis

The European Parliament has engaged with Saudi Arabia’s political and human rights issues through numerous resolutions over the years. These resolutions covered various concerns, including the death penalty, freedom of expression, human rights defenders, women’s rights, torture, institutional accountability, and impunity. However, a comparative analysis reveals that many of these requests have been repetitive, if not identical.

For instance, the Parliament has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, often expressing concerns about rising executions and death sentences. Similarly, requests for the release of individuals detained without sufficient legal basis, including the case of Raif Badawi, have been reiterated multiple times. The Parliament has also called for the abolition of torture practices and punitive ill-treatments and demanded independent and impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations. Saudi Arabia has been urged to ratify international human rights agreements and cooperate with international mechanisms, including UN Special Procedures.

While the repetition of requests does not necessarily signify failure, it raises questions about their implementation. Continuous calls for action, such as the release of Raif Badawi, have contributed to his eventual release in March 2022. However, in other cases, repetitive requests, like those related to the death penalty, have not resulted in significant change.

EU’s Approach to Sanctions and Embargoes

One area where the EU’s stance stands out is the call for sanctions and embargoes against Saudi Arabia. The European Council and Member States have been repeatedly urged to apply the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. Similarly, the Parliament has called for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the cessation of technology and equipment exports that could be used for internal repression. There have also been calls for sanctions against Saudi officials implicated in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

While these calls for sanctions and embargoes are commendable, they too have often been repetitive across different years and resolutions without being followed by relevant changes. This suggests a lack of effective implementation of parliamentary resolutions by the EU.

Consequences for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

Despite Saudi Arabia’s announcement of vital reforms, the country has continued to perpetuate human rights violations. Activists, lawyers, bloggers, and critics have been arrested and imprisoned under harsh conditions. Political parties remain illegal, stifling organized political opposition, and political dissent can lead to criminal prosecution. Women, who have taken on prominent roles in advocating for human rights, have increasingly become targets of abuse.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia employs vaguely-worded anti-terrorism laws to restrict freedom of expression, assembly, and association, leading to the arrest of individuals deemed to disturb public order or endanger national unity. Censorship and surveillance of online activities remain pervasive.

Despite some positive steps regarding women’s rights, gender inequality persists. The country also faces issues related to migrant rights and the kafala system, a sponsorship-based employment system.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, the EU’s approach to addressing human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia has been characterized by repetitive requests and a lack of concrete action. While the EU has made commendable calls for sanctions and embargoes, these have not been effectively implemented. This passive approach allows the Saudi government to continue perpetuating human rights abuses.

To bring about real change and ensure Saudi Arabia complies with its international human rights obligations, the EU must prioritize accountability and justice. The following recommendations are made:

1. Ensure the effective, long-term implementation of resolutions’ requests.
2. Participate actively in follow-up processes for passed resolutions.
3. Impose travel bans and financial sanctions on Saudi government officials responsible for human rights violations.
4. Establish an independent authority to monitor the correct allocation of EU funds for the improvement of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

It is only through consistent and determined action that the EU can push for meaningful change and contribute to the protection of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

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