U.S. Knew About Migrant Killings by Saudi Forces Earlier Than Previously Disclosed

On Sunday, following the Times report, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that “Saudi forces must immediately cease these brutal, unjustified actions and respect international law and basic human rights of migrants.”

“I have requested the State Department provide details regarding the extent to which the U.S. was aware of this pattern, what actions were taken in response, and details regarding funding, training, or support to Saudi forces involved,” he said. “I’ll continue to work on ensuring U.S. policy goals and funding do not support egregious human rights violations and the killing of migrants and asylum seekers.”

Mr. Meeks and other members of Congress, mostly Democrats, call Saudi Arabia an unreliable partner and point to its human rights record, including its yearslong war in Yemen. Those lawmakers will almost certainly raise further doubts about weapons sales to Saudi Arabia or potential cooperation with it on a civilian nuclear program, which some U.S. officials fear could be cover for a nuclear weapons program. Saudi officials are demanding the cooperation from Mr. Biden as a condition for Saudi-Israel normalization.

Last October, a group of U.N. experts sent the Saudi government a letter recounting details similar to what Human Rights Watch would later publish. They cited allegations that border guards had shot at migrants, killing as many as 430 in the first four months of the year, and raped women and girls, sending some back to Yemen naked. The United Nations publicly released that letter in December.

In January, Richard Mills, the deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, made a veiled reference to the issue, saying at a closed-door Security Council briefing on Yemen that “we remain concerned by alleged abuses against migrants on the border with Saudi Arabia.”

The State Department’s statement on Thursday said one of the groups that had told U.S. diplomats based in Riyadh last summer about the killings was Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights organization. Last September, the group reported that the bodies of about 30 Yemeni and Ethiopian migrants had been found on May 12, 2022, on the Saudi side of the border, some bearing gunshot wounds or signs of torture. Later, a State Department human rights report on Saudi Arabia’s acts last year mentioned Mwatana’s research in a paragraph.

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Istanbul.

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