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ICC Note: Ahead of President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, 70 members of congress sent a letter to the President urging him to raise human rights and religious freedom issues with King Abdullah during his meeting. The letter received support from International Christian Concern and other NGOs supporting religious freedoms, as well as groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that address larger human rights abuses.
By: Julian Pecquet
03/25/2014 Saudi Arabia (Al-Monitor) – An unusual alliance of conservative Christian Republicans and liberal Democrats are putting pressure on President Barack Obama to publicly address human rights violations when he visits Saudi Arabia on Friday, March 28, further complicating the president’s effort to mend bridges with the kingdom.
A total of 70 House members have signed on to a letter to the president being circulated by Reps. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass..
The letter, which was first made public by Al-Monitor last week, has been endorsed by groups as varied as Amnesty International, the National Organization for Women and Voice of the Martyrs. It calls on the president to denounce the “systematic human rights violations targeting women, religious minorities and peaceful political reformers.”
“If your administration has previously raised such concerns through private channels,” the letter states, “the Government of Saudi Arabia’s grave human rights record reveals its willingness to ignore such advice.
“Consequently, we urge you to combine symbolic actions with direct advocacy for human rights reforms. It is time to publicly demonstrate US support for those in Saudi Arabia who are willing to take such risks to advance fundamental rights in their society.”
The letter also encourages Obama to meet with women who are fighting for the right to be able to drive. And Amnesty sent an action alert to its members last week asking them to press the president to have a female Secret Service agent be his driver on his trip.
The congressional pressure comes as the White House is eager to mend ties that have frayed over the past few years because of a series of US policies that have antagonized Saudi Arabia. These include nuclear negotiations with Iran, perceived US support for the former Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and criticism of the subsequent military crackdown, and US reluctance to get involved in rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The letter’s signers include the usual array of Christian and human-rights activists – Franks is chairman of International Religious Freedom Caucus and McGovern co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Eleven members of the policy-writing House Foreign Affairs Committee have also signed on, however, including heavy-hitter Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R-Fla., Ted Poe R-Texas, Chris Smith R-N.J., Steve Chabot R-Ohio and Matt Salmon R-Ariz. – respectively the chairmen of its Middle East, terrorism, human rights, Asia/Pacific and Western Hemisphere panels.
“This is the beginning of an expression of popular concern articulated through the US Congress about that relationship,” predicted Sunjeev Bery, the advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA. “The Saudi Arabian government’s repression is so bad across so many fronts that it has created an environment in Washington, DC, where multiple groups representing multiple communities are all pushing Congress at the same time.”

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