Accused human rights abusers attend White House’s extremism summit
By Colin Daileda
10 hours ago
The White House is hosting representatives from more than 60 nations this week for a summit on countering extremism, but some of the attendees have been called extremists in their own right.
The conference focuses on using community outreach to thwart extremist tendencies before they begin, but several nations represented have records of using anti-radicalization laws as a way of shutting off all forms of dissent, including peaceful protesters.
See also: Satirical app helps Muslims ‘condemn’ Islamic extremism
A complete roll call of those in attendance is not publicly available, but we’ve listed some of the known attendees who represent nations with human rights records that show they have not been shy about committing abuses in the name of pursuing extremists.
The Egyptian military recently bombed Islamic State targets in Libya after an ISIS affiliate in Libya beheaded 21 Egyptian citizens. The show of force displayed Egypt’s willingness to fight extremists. But then, Egypt’s security forces under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have hardly been shy about using force.
After Sisi‘s military deposed President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, they killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters over the next several months. Sisi’s military has also thrown thousands of other Morsi supporters in jail using broad anti-extremism laws.
Countries such as Egypt are also “using the guise of countering terrorism and the need for security as an umbrella term to throw dissenters in jail and keep them there on bogus charges,” Sarah Margon, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, told Mashable. She called it a “troubling sign” that governments of nations such as Egypt could participate in a conference meant to counter extremism but then not implement reforms that would ease potentially deadly tensions at home.
Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will attend the White House summit.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE Minister of States for Foreign Affairs, will speak at the conference about effective strategies to counter extremism, according to a senior White House administration official.
The UAE’s Center for Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism is the first international center of its kind. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “an important step,” for countering radicals in 2012. The U.S. has continued to acknowledge the UAE’s role in fighting radicals, but it has done little to acknowledge the nation’s potential human rights abuses.
“In the UAE’s case, they’re certainly deeply repressive and their rights record is very poor,” Nicholas McGeehan, a Human Rights Watch researcher on the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, told Mashable.
The UAE recently passed legislation it labeled as “counterterrorism” that, McGeehan said allows the death penalty for anyone with material that might be interpreted to oppose fundamental Islamic principles.
“The UAE’s new law could be used to class anyone who criticizes them in public a terrorist,” McGeehan said. “So the U.S. and others should really be taking a look at their ally’s credentials.”
Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa will also be at the conference, and McGeehan said the case for caution when dealing with Bahrain might be even stronger than the UAE.
In 2012, Bahrain’s government cracked down on a citizen uprising criticizing its Sunni monarchy. Officials violently suppressed many Shiite citizens who wanted reforms such as a new constitution and a parliament elected by the people. Now, McGeehan said there is evidence that Bahraini authorities have allowed anti-Shia sentiment to fester in its armed forces.
“I think it’s important we keep our eye on the big picture, and not lose sight of the fact that repressive autocrats played a role in the emergence of groups like the [Islamic State],” McGeehan said. “What will be the longterm benefits of fighting symptom with cause?”
Saudi Arabia, which will be represented at the conference by Vice Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is another example of a nation that uses broad laws to ensnare extremists and peaceful dissidents alike, Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Mashable.
“There’s never really been a concerted effort to make human rights sort of part of that picture,” Coogle said of the Saudi-U.S. relationship.
The Saudi Arabian minister of the interior, he said, essentially has the power to jail whoever he likes.
The nation has used sweeping “anti-terrorism” laws to jail those willing to express an opinion other than the government’s viewpoint.
Recently, a prominent blogger and another well-known lawyer have made headlines from Saudi courts and prisons. They were both convicted of charges that human rights groups say amount to expressing views contrary to the government.
The blogger is serving a sentence of 10 years in prison and is to receive 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam,” while the lawyer is set to be jailed for 15 years for “inciting public opinion against the government.”
The U.S. doesn’t exactly have a squeaky-clean human rights record, either, in the minds of human rights groups.
Abuses detailed in the recently released CIA torture report shed new light on the possible human rights crimes that U.S. agents may have committed. Six years after U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the U.S. prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, it remains open. Inside are many prisoners who have not been charged with a crime.
“There are a number of stains on the U.S. that need to be addressed in ways that show a commitment to reverse bad policy and make sure it never happens again,” Margon said.
The U.S. also needs to make a commitment to halt invasive surveillance of Muslim communities that sows distrust, Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, told Mashable.
The president gave some assurance on that subject to Muslim families while speaking at the summit Wednesday.
“We have to make sure that abuses stop…that we do not stigmatize entire communities,” Obama said, referring to U.S. law enforcement engaging with Muslim Americans. “Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance.”
The US president went on the front foot against fundamentalist violence in the Middle East at a summit in Washington. But he was hobbled by his failure to place human rights in the region front and centre: here.