A prominent rights organisation has called on the G20 leading economies to press Saudi Arabia to release all those detained unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses ahead of a leaders summit scheduled to be held in the kingdom later this month.
In a statement on Monday, Human Rights Watch said the G20 awarded Riyadh this year’s presidency “despite the Saudi government’s unrelenting assault on fundamental freedoms, including jailing and harassing public dissidents and human rights activists, unlawful attacks on civilians in Yemen, and flouting international calls for accountability for the murder by state agents of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.
Two years since Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, there has been no accountability for senior officials involved in his murder.
Instead, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars hosting entertainment, cultural and sporting events as a deliberate strategy known as “image laundering” to conceal its human rights abuses, HRW said.
“The G20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression since 2017,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), King Salman’s son and de facto ruler of the country, has moved to consolidate power since removing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup.
Less than two weeks before the virtual summit on November 21, HRW urged the G20 members to allow an independent, international body to investigate Khashoggi’s killing and review all court documents from the trial of those allegedly responsible for the murder, which concluded in September.
“G20 countries can make a difference and play a significant role in convincing Saudi Arabia to halt its human rights abuses,” Page said.
Several intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have reportedly concluded MBS ordered Khashoggi’s killing – accusations Riyadh has denied. The Saudi government claimed the intelligence officers responsible for the killing had gone rogue.
HRW recommended that G20 countries should help stop Saudi Arabia’s attempts to whitewash its abuses by pressing for the release of all Saudi human rights activists “accused of vague offenses based on their activism”.
They include women’s rights activists arrested in 2018, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassema al-Sadah, Samer Badawi, and Nouf Abdulaziz, as well as Salah Haidar, Waleed Abu al-Khair, Essam Koshak, and Raif Badawi.
HRW also urged countries to allow the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen to carry out its mandate by facilitating access to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
A Saudi-led coalition military coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 in a bid to restore the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was removed by the Houthi rebels in the capital, Sanaa in 2014.
The conflict, a military impasse, has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands of people – mostly civilians – have been killed and millions of others are facing starvation.