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HRW criticises Biden for weak defence of human rights in Middle East

Rights group also calls out French President Emmanuel Macron for remaining quiet on rights issues in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
While Biden has had a completely different approach than Trump, HRW noted he has continued weapon sales to repressive governments.
While Biden has had a completely different approach to Trump, HRW noted he has continued weapons sales to repressive governments (AFP/File photo)

Human Rights Watch has criticised US President Joe Biden and other western leaders over their "weak" defences of democracy and human rights, saying their continued support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel contradicted their stated foreign policy goals.

While Biden has had a completely different approach to his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who was described by HRW executive director Kenneth Roth as having an "embrace of friendly autocrats", the rights group said on Thursday that the current administration continued weapons sales to repressive governments and remained reserved on certain human rights violations.

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"Biden took office promising a foreign policy that would be guided by human rights. But he continued to sell arms to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel despite their persistent repression," HRW said in its annual World Report.

"During key summits, Biden seemed to lose his voice when it came to public denunciation of serious human rights violations."

Before being elected president, Biden vowed to make the Saudi kingdom "pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are". He also referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, saying there would be "no more blank checks for Trump's 'favourite dictator'".

The administration has announced an end to offensive support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, however, it has continued to support the kingdom with hundreds of millions of dollars in arms sales.

Washington placed conditions on some aid to Egypt, however, rights groups have criticised the move saying it was not nearly enough to stop the Egyptian government's rights abuses. Biden also pushed forward with arms sales to Egypt at times when Cairo was arresting the family members of a prominent Egyptian-American activist.

The report added that Biden administration has continued to oppose the International Criminal Court's investigation into the actions of the US in Afghanistan and the actions of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

US officials have defended the Biden administration's record, saying diplomats had frequently raised human rights concerns with foreign leaders, including in difficult talks with adversaries including China and Russia.

"If democracies are to prevail in the global contest with autocracy, their leaders must do more than spotlight the autocrats' inevitable shortcomings. They need to make a stronger, positive case for democratic rule," Roth said.

European selectivity

The rights group has for years accused a number of countries, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, of violating human rights and cracking down on civil society groups, activists, and political dissidents.

HRW also levelled particular criticism at French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who "displayed similar weakness" in defence of democracy.

Roth noted that Macron helped coordinate a broad condemnation of China's actions in Xinjiang, where rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim people have been incarcerated in camps in a bid to root out Islamic customs and forcibly integrate minorities.

However, when it came to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE's human rights records, Macron remained silent, Roth noted.

The French president became the first major western leader to visit Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Middle East Eye columnist.

Meanwhile, "Egyptians under Sisi are living through the worst repression in the country’s modern history, yet the French government continues to sell it arms, and Macron even gave Sisi La Légion d’honneur, France’s highest award," the report said.

"Similarly, Macron announced an enormous arms sale to the United Arab Emirates despite its military’s involvement in the countless unlawful attacks against civilians in Yemen."