US President Barack Obama left Riyadh (March 29) apparently without raising human rights issues during talks with Saudi officials. The trip came at a time when Saudi Arabia has scaled up its persecution of peaceful dissidents and human rights activists – including one who is expected to receive a long prison sentence next week; deported thousands of undocumented migrants who have been detained in terrible conditions; and continues its systematic discrimination against women. Although billed as a “fence-mending” trip, it is hard not to wonder what it would take for Obama – or any senior US official – to shed some light on these pervasive abuses.
Following President Obama’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah on the following Friday, reporters asked a senior administrative official whether Obama had raised human rights issues. The official replied, “The focus of the meeting was strategic and regional topics.” When pressed for a yes or no, the official said, “no.”