On Wednesday, just as Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni was leaving Riyadh and its oil monarch, Salman, for the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, an air raid by the Saudi-led coalition struck a market in Sa’ada in northern Yemen, killing 29 people, including many children.
This would be the perfect opportunity for Italy to distance itself from the war currently happening there, which is fueling the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and is met with general indifference elsewhere — but instead, we are deliberately maintaining a loud silence. And this time, such a statement is clearly not speculation.
We know this because a few days ago, before Gentiloni’s departure, Amnesty International Italy, represented by its director general, Gianni Rufini, sent a detailed dossier to the prime minister, so that he might take the opportunity of his visit to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar “to raise the issue of human rights violations in the three Gulf countries, and, more generally, to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of the bilateral diplomatic relations between Italy and these three countries.”
Amnesty points out that the authorities in Saudi Arabia are still severely restricting the rights to free expression, association and assembly, “arresting and jailing, on the basis of vaguely worded accusations, human rights defenders, people who express critical opinions and activists for the rights of minorities.”
Among these is Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes — 50 of which have already been administered in public — for the crime of having started an online discussion forum on political and religious topics. The Amnesty dossier stresses that torture remains “common practice, especially during interrogations,” because the courts continue to accept “confessions” obtained under torture in order to convict defendants in unfair judicial proceedings, with the death penalty imposed even for nonviolent crimes and against minors.
Saudi Arabia is among the top five countries in the world in the number of executions.
Since the beginning of 2017, 100 death sentences have been carried out. The Amnesty dossier does not fail to mention how the forces of the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 have committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes. And Amnesty denounces the fact that, despite all this — and this is the key point — Italy has chosen to continue to provide the Saudi Arabia-led coalition with military systems and ammunition that only fuel the conflict further, despite several reliable reports pointing out the serious and repeated violations of the international conventions on human rights and humanitarian law.
In the UAE as well, the authorities continue to impose arbitrary restrictions on the right to free expression and association, detaining and prosecuting people who are critical toward the government, representatives of the opposition and foreign citizens under criminal defamation and anti-terrorism laws. Enforced disappearances, unfair trials, torture and other types of ill-treatment of detainees are common practice. Dozens of people convicted in previous years after unfair trials are currently locked up in prison, and among them are many prisoners of conscience.
These include Ahmed Mansoor, human rights activist and well-known blogger, who has been intimidated, harassed and imprisoned on many occasions at the hands of the authorities and is currently under a condition of enforced disappearance since March 20, at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
And in Qatar as well, undue restrictions on the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continue to be imposed. The existence of independent political parties is not allowed, and only Qatari citizens are permitted to organize themselves in workers’ associations, as long as these meet the strict criteria set by the authorities. Unauthorized public gatherings are not permitted and are systematically dispersed, and laws are on the books criminalizing forms of expression deemed offensive to the emir. Furthermore, as Amnesty underlines in the dossier, “discrimination against women is rooted in law and in common practice. Migrant workers suffer severe forms of exploitation and abuse.”
Do you think that Gentiloni, accompanied on his trip by Alessandro Profumo from Leonardo, Claudio De Scalzi from Eni and Giuseppe Bono from Finmeccanica, felt any need to respond to Amnesty’s letter? No, he did not.
In fact, the “response” he gave came in official and diplomatic language, after his meeting with the authorities of the Saudi petro-state: “Relations with Saudi Arabia are important to our national interests and the stability of the Mediterranean and of Libya,” Gentiloni said, “and I appreciated the moderating role it has had in the Libyan crisis. We look with interest toward the meeting organized with the members of the Syrian opposition with the aim to create a new environment, and we hope that the ongoing attempts by the U.S. and Kuwait to avoid tensions in the Gulf will bear fruit.”
As elsewhere on this business trip, one could not miss here the sign of an attitude of obvious submissiveness, with an eye to Libya, where the monarchy in Riyadh supports General Haftar against “our” Serraj, and to the so-called stabilization of Syria, where Saudi Arabia, after having helped to reduce the country to rubble, has only just stopped supporting ISIS’ jihadism and is now angling to get a rich slice of the business of reconstruction. And even more, being thankful for Trump’s “attempts,” that have in fact brought a gift of some $110 billion in arms sales to the Saud clan.
For a presidential business trip, with an eye to the inevitable “growth” of the Made in Italy brand, this oppressive theater of silence and pretense might indeed be enough.