Right Livelihood Advocacy Officer Fédora Bernard

Joint UN statement: Prioritising economic interests over human rights in Saudi Arabia has a human cost

News 24.03.2023

Right Livelihood, together with NGOs ALQST for Human Rights and MENA Rights Group, raised attention to the human cost of countries prioritising economic interests over human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The statement specifically highlighted the abuses activists face during the Saudi regime’s intensified crackdown on political dissidents.

You can read the full statement here. 

International scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been ongoing for several decades. In recent months, however, the Saudi regime has increased its efforts to silence people advocating for political reform, we told the Council. 

This is most clear in the excessively lengthy prison sentences the regime has been imposing on human rights defenders. Saudi Arabia’s vague counterterrorism laws, introduced in 2014, allow Saudi authorities to imprison individuals without a fair trial, simply by claiming that they pose a threat to national security. 

This has led to inordinately long prison sentences for human rights defenders, who are often targeted using these laws.

And yet, the nightmare for Saudi human rights defenders does not end at the conclusion of their prison sentence, we told the Council. Instead, after serving their sentences, they are often retried for more bogus crimes, forcibly disappeared and kept from communicating with the outside world or banned from leaving the country.

All of these tactics are used to prevent activists from speaking out about the abuses they have suffered at the hands of the Saudi regime. This is precisely the case for Right Livelihood Laureate Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who has been forcibly disappeared since October 24, 2022.

Al-Qahtani is a human rights defender and academic, who has been imprisoned since 2013. His family suspects that his enforced disappearance is a punishment for complaining about being repeatedly assaulted by mentally ill inmates.

In the statement, we called on Members of the Council to uphold their responsibility to protect human rights worldwide. This is especially necessary in Saudi Arabia, we explained, where countries repeatedly overlook human rights violations to protect their economic interests.

This is very evident in the UK, where the government permits arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite the regime’s documented human rights abuses. If countries continue to prioritise their economic interests in relations with Saudi Arabia, we told the Council, the regime will only intensify its oppression of human rights defenders.

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