Paris – The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) today wrote a letter to President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, asking them to withdraw their attendance from Saudi Arabia’s G20 Summit in Riyadh on 21-22 November unless the Kingdom addresses its human rights record and begins making genuine reforms.
AFDH is concerned that Saudi Arabia is using the G20 summit to whitewash the country’s autocratic regime which has a long-standing history of committing human rights violations. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has worsened in recent years under the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s dictatorship, which saw the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Saudi Arabia has been opaque throughout the entire justice process and has failed to provide any genuine accountability for Khashoggi’s death. Many questions remain over Prince Mohammed’s responsibility in ordering the killing, as many western intelligence agencies have suggested he had prior knowledge of the operation. The United Nation’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard, found in an investigative report “credible evidence” that Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials were culpable for Khashoggi’s murder.
The Saudi government has repeatedly shown an intolerance towards journalists and human rights defenders by arbitrarily arresting, torturing and sentencing them for their peaceful activism and journalistic work. Alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia has currently the third-highest number of journalists in jail. At the end of December 2019, the kingdom had on record, 26 journalists imprisoned and no charges were disclosed in 18 of those cases.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia conducted a nationwide crackdown on Saudi women activists challenging the prejudicial male guardianship system by peacefully campaigning for their right to drive. Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and dozens of other activists were detained and many reported to have been tortured while in detention, including flogging, electric shocks, sexual harassment, solitary confinement and other ill-treatment during interrogation. While some women have been temporarily released, many are carrying out their prison sentences with some still waiting trial years after their arrest. Loujain has been in pre-trial detention for nearly three years and is on day 21 of her hunger strike, protesting the right to have regular contact with her family. Her family have had no contact with her since her hunger strike began.
Saudi Arabia has made limited progress in dismantling the male guardianship system. Women in the kingdom, including foreign women residing in the country, are denied agency over their own lives and are not recognised as full human beings. Discriminating against women, Saudi law prohibits disobedience to husbands or male guardians, meaning women still need a man’s permission to leave prison, marry, divorce and leave a domestic abuse shelter. Saudi women do not have the right to pass their nationality onto their children, nor can they choose how they want to give birth. Additionally, Saudi citizens are not permitted to return to their home countries without their husband’s permission and despite current domestic violence laws endorsed under Royal Decree in 2013, men continue to hold extreme power over women and children, leaving many of them trapped in abusive relationships. Moreover, those who try to speak up about the actuality of women’s rights and other human rights issues in the Kingdom are often arrested on trumped-up charges, or even forcibly disappeared.
Saudi Arabia currently executes more people than any other country in the world. In 2019, the country reached a record number of executions. A total of 184 people were put to death, including 6 women and 178 men – 90 of whom were foreign nationals. On 23 April, 2019, 37 people were executed in a single day, spawning international condemnation as most of them received terrorism-related charges which were made under duress.
The Kingdom’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen – which has been deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, has forced over 3.6 million people to flee their homes and over 24 million people (80% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. Since conflict began in March 2015, more than 100,000 people have been killed due to direct and indirect attacks on civilians. The war has also led to wide-spread famine, killing more than 85,000 children and infrastructure and basic health services are completely decrepit.
The Francophone Association for Human Rights called on the G20 participants to address Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and ask that the Kingdom make genuine reforms and take appropriate measures to end its human rights abuses should Saudi Arabia want to be taken seriously as a G20 member. This includes:
- Complete transparency in Jamal Khashoggi’s case and genuine accountability for his death.
- The immediate and unconditional release of activists, journalists and other prisoners of conscience who have peacefully advocated for women’s rights, exercised their right to freedom of expression, journalistic work and other activism.
- Stop the discrimination of women by abolishing the country’s male guardianship system. No woman should be forced to require permission from a man to do anything.
- Abolish the death penalty.
- Withdraw troops from Yemen and engage in serious peace talks to stop the destruction and give Yemen a proper chance to rebuild its society.
The Francophone Association for Human Rights concluded, “We believe that Saudi Arabia should have no involvement in the 2020 G20, let alone be hosting the summit until all of the above is addressed. It is our hope that this boycott will send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that the time of impunity is over and human rights abuses cannot be glossed over or ignored.”