27th Feb 2024

Saudis killed hundreds of migrants, says Human Rights Watch

  • Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi's minister of foreign affairs, was in Brussels in February, meeting EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo: European Union)
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Saudi border guards are said to have killed hundreds of largely Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers in the span of 15 months, according to Human Rights Watch.

A 73-page report out Monday (21 August) by the NGO says people attempting to enter the kingdom were shot at close range.

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"In some instances, Saudi border guards first asked survivors in which limb of their body they preferred to be shot, before shooting them at close range," says the report.

The guards had also used mortar projectiles and other explosive weapons, it says. The NGO documented at least 28 such incidents. Similar reports of killings cited by UN experts surfaced last October and were later denied by the Saudi government.

The Human Rights Watch report comes as the petro-state attempts to cleanse its tarnished reputation abroad, spending large sums of money on sporting events like the heavyweight boxing world title fight, as well as purchasing the English premier league football team Newcastle United.

Saudi and EU relations

They had also paid the College of Europe, an educational institution based in Bruges that helps launch careers in diplomacy and at the EU institutions, to lobby the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, the 2018 murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey, appears to be largely glossed over.

By 2019, France was the third-largest weapons exporter to Saudi Arabia, after the United States and the UK.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was later invited to Paris by French president Emmanuel Macron, in a move widely panned by human rights defenders.

But it also comes as the kingdom ramps up its bilateral relations with the European Union, posing questions on how the Brussels-executive attempts to reconcile its stand on human rights.

Last month, the two sides held a meeting in Brussels "to further the enhanced bilateral cooperation". The next meeting is set be held next year in Riyadh.

Those meetings follow a wider plan, announced last year, to step up relations with Gulf countries that seeks regional stability and global security.

The EU says such relations need to be reinforced because Gulf countries are increasingly active in their own region and in the broader Middle East and beyond.

This includes Yemen, where many of those fleeing war sought safety in Saudi Arabia only then to be killed by Saudi border guards, says Human Rights Watch.

But Saudi Arabia is also increasingly being viewed as a resurgent leader in the Middle East and North Africa.

A blog entry at the European Council of Foreign Relations, a think tank, says Riyadh is attempting to become the first port of call in the region for foreign leaders.

Earlier this year, Saudi's foreign minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud was in Brussels to help boost relations.

The minister held talks with the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. In a press statement, the EU says the two spoke about climate change, energy, security, trade and investment and coordination of humanitarian assistance, as well as human rights.

The EU is Saudi Arabia's second trading partner, with 14.8 percent of Saudi Arabia's global trade. China is first with 18.7 percent.


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