Three prominent international NGOs have boycotted meetings that Saudi Arabia is holding with civil society groups ahead of the annual Group of Twenty (G20) Summit, saying the Riyadh regime is trying to “whitewash its dire human rights record” by hosting such events.
In a joint statement issued on Monday, human rights group Amnesty International, anti-corruption body Transparency International, and the global alliance of civil society organizations and activists known as CIVICUS said they would not take part in the dedicated meetings for civil society within the G20, known as the Civil 20 or C20.
“As leading civil society organizations present in most countries around the world (but notably not Saudi Arabia), we cannot participate in a process that seeks to give international legitimacy to a state that provides virtually no space for civil society, and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated,” read the statement.
In December 2019, Saudi Arabia took over the presidency of the G20 — the group of 19 of the world’s largest economies along with the European Union.
This year’s G20 Summit is planned to be held in Riyadh in November. This week, the kingdom is holding C20 meetings with civil society groups.
The NGOs boycotting the C20 said Saudi Arabia has “recruited expensive Western PR advisers and spent millions of dollars” in an attempt to polish its image and suppress criticism from international media.
The kingdom arrests and prosecutes rights defenders, censors free speech, discriminates against women, and tortures detained journalists and activists, the groups noted.
“Instead of real reform, the Saudi government has been trying to whitewash its dire human rights record by holding major international events in the country. This includes the G20,” they said.
The trio also called on other groups to join them in the boycott, stressing that even if they participate in the C20, Saudi Arabia will censor the discussions to its own people, and that protests by activist groups would be limited.
“Freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, but in a country where all gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, are prohibited, there is no possibility that this fundamental right will be respected,” they said.
Separately, Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International, said, “The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government — which makes a mockery of the whole process.”
“The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights…, and tortures and executes critics,” he added.
Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur investigating the state-sponsored murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has already called for the G20 meetings to be moved elsewhere this year.
In her 101-page report published in June 2019, she said there is “sufficient credible evidence” indicating that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bears responsibility for the murder in 2018 of Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate and should therefore be investigated.
In another development on Monday, human rights organization Reprieve said Saudi Arabia executed 184 people in 2019, the most in a calendar year in six years.
“This is another grim milestone for Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s rulers clearly believe they have total impunity to flout international law when it suits them,” Reprieve director Maya Foa told Al Jazeera.
She also noted that the number of executions continues to rise under bin Salman.
Foa added that the countries gathering to promote cooperation at the upcoming G20 summit in Riyadh would be seen as a “tacitly endorsing these egregious human rights abuses.”
“The US and the UK, in particular, must hold Mohammed bin Salman to his word and demand an end to the torture and execution of children in Saudi Arabia,” she said.