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August 07, 2018

U.S. Government Should Stand with Canada Against Saudi Human Rights Abuses

Washington, D.C—In response to the U.S. State Department’s decision not to support the Canadian government as it stands up for human rights, Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy at Human Rights First and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, issued the following statement:

“The Saudi government is arbitrarily detaining Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and other women’s rights activists for having the temerity to say that women aren’t property. The Canadian government is right to be calling out this appalling behavior. A decision not to comment on this matter is, in practical terms, tacit approval of the Saudi government’s actions. The Trump Administration is in effect siding with repression over both peaceful activists and a close ally.”  

On August 3, the Canadian government noted on Twitter its “grave concern” over the arrest of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, and called for the immediate release of those detained. According to press reports, the Saudi government responded to Canadian tweets by recalling its ambassador from Ottawa, ordering the departure of the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh, halting trade and Saudi Airlines flights between the two countries, and suspending the study abroad of roughly 12,000 Saudi students residing in Canada. During a press briefing held at the Department of State on August 7, spokesperson Heather Nauert declined to support the Canadian government’s position or to condemn the activists’ arrests. The arrests come as Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman marries a government-driven reform program with heightened repression against dissidents and other non-governmental actors.  

“Saudi Arabia is clearly trying to make an example out of Canada. How the U.S. government responds is sure not to be lost on either that government or other autocratic regimes gauging whether the Trump Administration will give a free pass to repression. This is a test, and so far we’re failing,” added Berschinski.     

For more information or to speak with Berschinski, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.