Amnesty International has revealed that 220 civil society organisations have announced a boycott of the G20 meeting due to be hosted by Saudi Arabia in November. The human rights organisation said that civil society groups around the world have expressed concerns about the participation of NGOs in the summit.
The organisations in question have pledged not to participate in this year’s process, known as the Civil 20 (C20), which is a dedicated series of meetings for civil society bodies within the G20. They endorsed a statement, issued in January, which said that, “Instead of engaging in real reform, the Saudi government is trying to cover up its poor human rights record by holding major international events in the country. As leading civil society organisations present in most countries around the world but not in Saudi Arabia, we cannot participate in a process that seeks to give international legitimacy to a country that does not effectively provide space for civil society, and where the voice of an independent civil society is not allowed.”
Amnesty’s Director of Advocacy Policy and Research said that it is time for the Saudi authorities to take significant steps to put an end to “arbitrary detentions, torture and unfair trials”, and to end widespread use of the death penalty. “We hope,” added Netsanet Belay, “that dozens of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists behind bars, such as Waleed Abulkhair and Loujain Al-Hathloul, Raif Badawi, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah, will draw strength from this solidarity action by many organisations around the world with the aim of not allowing the cover up of the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record.”
Belay stressed that civil society groups are demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the detained activists so that they can significantly participate with their government in developing laws and policies that are in line with human rights at home and abroad. “This includes a revision of position from the G20.”
Delia Ferreira Rubio, the President of Transparency International, insisted that the organisations will not participate in a process that seeks to “launder Saudi Arabia’s appalling record” in the field of human rights and independent civil society.
Moreover, the Secretary General of CIVICUS pointed out that the Saudi authorities have made it practically impossible for human rights defenders and civil society organisations to carry out their work in the country. “Saudi Arabia,” he said, “does not tolerate freedom of expression, and many human rights defenders and activists are in prison or exile. We refuse to participate in the C20 civil society meeting led by Saudi Arabia because we believe that activists and independent civil society organisations will not be able to participate freely in this process.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a major ally of the US in the ongoing stand-off with Iran. The Kingdom faced severe criticism from western countries for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. It continues to be challenged about the detention of women’s rights activists and its lead role in the devastating war in Yemen.