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Tue 12 May 2015 06:48 PM

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US President urged to press GCC leaders on human rights

Human Rights Watch calls on Barack Obama to tackle human rights concerns during summit on May 13-14

US President urged to press GCC leaders on human rights
US President Barack Obama. (Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama has been urged to press the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to show greater respect for human rights when he meets them this week to discuss partnership and security.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that it has written to President Obama detailing the "vital need to raise these concerns during the two-day summit meeting" on May 13-14.

The group said of primary concern among a litany of rights violations across the Gulf region is the "widespread practice of penalising legitimate dissent in the name of national security".

It claimed Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have all passed "draconian legislation" since the so-called Arab uprisings of 2011 and five of the six countries (Kuwait aside) have ratified a joint security agreement, which could be used to criminalise criticism of GCC countries or rulers.

“GCC rulers have cast a blanket of repression over the region in response to their citizens’ calls for political reform,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

“President Obama should make clear the US doesn’t support the GCC’s stifling of dissent, which is more likely to undermine stability than guarantee it.”

In an interview with the New York Times on April 5, President Obama referred to the need for GCC governments to be “more responsive to their people” and to the importance of “disentangling” genuine activity that threatens national security from dissatisfaction.

Human Rights Watch claimed hundreds of dissidents, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and bloggers, have been imprisoned across the region, many after unfair trials and allegations of torture in pretrial detention.

It added that Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman have assumed greater powers to strip dissidents of their citizenship in ways that put their rights at risk.

“The GCC’s collective security agreement, in conjunction with the draconian laws each member country has implemented, are silencing important voices and filling the region’s jails,” Margon said.

“President Obama can and should use his influence to unequivocally support the men and women speaking out against repression and abuse.”