Tillerson Addresses US-Saudi Business Ties But Ignores Human Rights Concerns

19 April 2017 — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to deliver remarks to a number of American and Saudi companies at the second annual US-Saudi Arabia CEO Summit in Washington, DC. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) condemns Secretary Tillerson’s attendance and participation as a part of a broader move by the Trump administration to decouple human rights issues from business issues.

The second annual US-Saudi Arabia CEO Summit is being hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Its purpose is to bring together US and Saudi government officials and business leaders in order to “discuss challenges and opportunities to expanding the US-Saudi economic partnership and creating new jobs.” The first summit took place on 24 January 2016 and was held in Riyadh.

Secretary Tillerson’s involvement in the summit is indicative of the US’ current move to separate human rights and business issues. In a break with longstanding precedent, Tillerson was notably absent at the 3 March launch of the State Department’s 2016 annual human rights report. Secretaries of State of both Democratic and Republican administrations had attended the launch of the annual report and Tillerson’s absence demonstrates the Trump administration’s broader lack of interest in human rights.

“The attendance of the Secretary of State at the launch of the State Department’s report is critical for showing the world that the US will stand by its values of promoting human rights and human dignity around the world, and Tillerson’s absence was indicative of the current administration’s view of human rights,” states Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “The Trump administration has crowed about its transactional approach to foreign policy, but Tillerson’s participation in this summit, stocked with Saudi CEOs, demonstrates the administration is willing to sacrifice human rights on the altar of business.”

The attendance of the US Secretary of State at a business conference with Saudi CEOs despite the country’s ongoing human rights abuses is part of an ongoing pattern in the Trump administration to separate human rights from other concerns. Secretary of Defense Mattis was in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday where he discussed strengthening security ties, but did not raise human rights concerns. President Trump is also expected to approve the sale of a $300 million precision-guided missile technology package to the kingdom despite Saudi Arabia’s poor track record of airstrikes in Yemen.

“The cumulative result of Mattis traveling to Saudi Arabia but ignoring human rights, Trump selling weapons to the kingdom despite allegations of war crimes in Yemen, and now Tillerson’s participation sends the signal that human rights is simply not an issue of concern, and that is seriously alarming,” states Husain Abdulla. “Trump’s administration is still young and there is still time to adopt a foreign policy approach that respects human rights, but the US needs to act now.”