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For Immediate Release

PHR Applauds Goals laid out in President Obama's Speech on MENA Region, Warns about Dangers of Unequal Implementation and Loss of Credibility

Cambridge, Mass - 05/19/2011

Cambridge, MA / Washington, D.C. – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) applauded the general goals laid out today by President Obama for the Middle East and North Africa and the Administration’s renewal of its commitment to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but expressed strong concerns about the unequal pursuit of these goals throughout the region and the resulting loss of credibility. As the region undergoes fundamental changes driven by protesters who face torture, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and death as a consequence of their attempts to break free from oppression and discrimination, the Obama Administration finally addressed these important developments in a comprehensive fashion.

President Obama defined three principles of engagement for the region, including the opposition to any form of violence and repression, support for universal rights including free speech, peaceful assembly, religious freedom, equality of men and women, and the right to choose their own leaders, as well as political and economic reform in the region. While these principles are commonly accepted and hardly establish a new vision as they should be considered long-established corner stones of all of our foreign policy, PHR continues to express strong concerns that the Obama Administration is not implementing those principles equally throughout the region. Much rather, the Administration has so far adopted a kid glove approach vis-à-vis countries that have been supportive of U.S. security or energy goals in the region. PHR applauds the strong and fully warranted actions taken by the Administration against Libya and Syria, but strongly criticizes that the President did not go beyond merely listing abuses in Bahrain without establishing clear U.S. policy consequences should the Bahraini government fail to immediately adhere to international human rights standards and end its brutal crackdown, and did not mention Saudi Arabia at all.

“PHR has long urged the Obama Administration to take every opportunity to demand in no uncertain terms the protection of internationally recognized human rights standards throughout the MENA region, and to do so with the same vigor vis-à-vis friends and foes. We cannot leave the slightest doubt, publicly or privately, that the United States uses the same yard stick to measure human rights violations all over the world, including here in the United States,” said Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s Chief Policy Officer. “When the President justifiably mentioned the destructive role Iran has played in the region, but completely spared Saudi Arabia from any criticism of violating exactly those guiding principles of engagement he has laid out, we lose credibility in the entire region. Without being seen as a credible partner, the U.S. cannot be an effective arbiter of the Middle East peace process.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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