By Peter Bogdanich
April 1st, 2016
On March 5th and 6th, over two hundred scholars, activists, and concerned citizens gathered at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law in Washington, DC, for CODEPINK’s 2016 Summit on Saudi Arabia.
This first of its kind event brought 20 speakers together for six panel discussions on topics including U.S. arms sales, human rights, migrant labor, and the broad implications of Saudi foreign policy. Participants also used the forum to brainstorm new strategies for supporting positive change in the country.
As author Vijay Prashad summarized in his keynote address, big business interests historically determined the nature of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. From the discovery of oil in the early 20th century to multi-billion dollar arms sales in the 21st, incredible profits made it easy for those in positions of power to argue that this partnership was vital to maintaining American security and prosperity.
But as more Americans examine the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, more are beginning to see it as problematic rather than helpful. More are beginning to realize that unquestioning U.S. support for Saudi Arabia is undermining values that many American voters care about – democracy, freedom, and human rights. This brings us to a question that was the focal point of the two-day summit: how can ordinary Americans and people living in the U.S. change our relationship with Saudi Arabia while encouraging respect for human rights there?
With Saudi Arabian representatives spending lavishly on Washington PR firms and think-tanks to whitewash the government’s reputation here, many panelists agreed that spreading awareness of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia might be the most effective tactic.
It was Daniel Arshack, the American lawyer for imprisoned Saudi human rights attorney Waleed Abulkhair, who best summed up this sentiment: “What can we do in the face of such clear injustice? For one thing, we must not allow our own government, indeed the majority of the international community, to turn a blind eye to the Saudi government’s flagrant violation of human rights.” CODEPINK’s Summit on Saudi Arabia is an important first step in that direction.
Peter Bogdanich is a research associate with Freedom Forward, an organization focused on ending U.S. support for dictators, kings, and repressive governments.