In testimony at Congressional hearing, DAWN's Whitson argues that U.S. support to repressive governments violates human rights obligations, harms people in the region
(Washington, D.C.) — On April 29, 2021, DAWN's Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson testified in Congress before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in a live-streamed, virtual hearing titled "Human Rights and U.S. Policy in the MENA Region Ten Years After the Arab Spring." Watch Sarah Leah Whitson's testimony here.
In her testimony, Whitson explained how U.S. policy has failed to abide by its own human rights obligations that prohibit contributing to abuses. "Over the past decade [since the Arab Spring] – and many decades prior to that – the U.S. has actively aided and abetted the most serious abuses in the Middle East by providing military, economic, and diplomatic support to authoritarian, repressive, and apartheid governments in the region."
Whitson referenced the Human Rights Watch report finding the Israeli government "responsible for the crimes of apartheid and persecution in its governance of Palestinians, [and whose] findings follow the same conclusion made by leading Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations." Whitson added that Palestinian efforts "to protest their 50+ years of inhumane occupation, […] have been met with punitive measures imposed by the U.S. government and U.S. states." These measures include withdrawal of funding, silencing of peaceful advocacy, and reassurances that US military support to Israel will remain "unconditional".
Whitson described how billions of U.S. dollars in arms sales to countries in the MENA region have served only to embolden and assist brutal and undemocratic leaders and governments, not their subject populations, which ultimately cause chaos and instability:
"We must be clear that providing $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to the government of Egypt supports its crimes against the Egyptian people." Whitson testified. "The outdated 'security interests' offered to justify our continued support of this repressive government fail to withstand serious scrutiny."
For similar reasons, Whitson testified that the U.S. should also end its military support of the Israeli authorities, as well as arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Although "the U.S. has no capacity or credibility to fix all that is wrong in the Arab world", Whitson ended her testimony by noting that "the U.S. does, however, have an absolute legal, ethical, and national interest obligation to end its support for systematically abusive governments in the region. This is where we must draw a real red line."
Whitson testified alongside Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of Project On Middle East Democracy; Philippe Nassif, Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA; Sarah Holewinski, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch; and Samuel Tadros, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
Watch the full briefing here. A written testimony submitted for the official record will be forthcoming.ii
Additional DAWN Reading:
Biden Needs a Middle East Wide Human Rights Policy
U.S. Aid to Egypt Does Not Aid the People of Egypt. It Harms Them.