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Opinion

The Trump Administration Fails Tillerson’s Test

By Michael Posner

Michael Posner_bio_article

If the administration’s default position is to downgrade public attention to human rights issues, then we must pay even greater attention to actions the administration takes in its bilateral relations with countries that are committing serious rights abuses.

In recent weeks the Trump administration has approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain and warmly welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House, ignoring the failure of both the Bahraini and Egyptian governments to address serious human rights abuses. Now the administration seems poised to notify the Senate of its intention to sell new weapons to Saudi Arabia, reversing an Obama administration decision in December that suspended the sale because of Saudi attacks on civilians in Yemen.

But these moves, which ignore the human rights abuses happening in those countries, fail to meet a standard articulated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at his confirmation hearing in January. At that hearing, he rightly said, “Our leadership demands action specifically focused on improving the conditions of people the world over, utilizing both aid and economic sanctions as instruments of foreign policy when appropriate.”

If this is the test, then the weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the unconditional embrace of Egypt’s Sisi run counter to the objective of improving conditions for the people in those countries. In the Saudi case, the test is how Saudi Arabia will use our weapons, and what steps its government is taking to protect civilians affected by military operations.

Read the full article as published by Just Security.

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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Co-Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.