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Civil society groups boycott G20 summit in Saudi Arabia

Protest in Tunis against the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince in 2018. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Emnamizouni (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The fifteenth meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) will be hosted by Saudi Arabia from 21–22 November 2020 in the capital city of Riyadh. According to Freedom House in Washington D.C. that provides annual assessments, the absolute monarchy ranks among the ten “worst of the worst” countries in the world in terms of political rights and civil liberties.

As host of the G20 meeting this year, the Saudi Arabian government also leads the G20’s official platform for consultations with civil society, the so-called C20 engagement group. According to a joint statement released earlier this month by Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Transparency International, the C20 meetings “despite many limitations and challenges” represent “rare opportunities to make policy recommendations directly to national authorities and to influence the global agenda on issues that affect billions of people.”

This year’s C20 process is a farcial attempt to whitewash a dire human rights record

However, this year the three organizations will stay away from the C20 process. “The global C20 civil society forum hosted this year by Saudi Arabia is a farcical attempt by the new G20 hosts to whitewash their dire human rights record”, Amnesty International said, adding that “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.” 

According to the joint statement that explains the boycott, the government of Saudi Arabia “has recruited expensive Western PR advisors and spent millions of dollars to polish its image and suppress criticism from international media. Meanwhile, at home the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regularly arrests and prosecutes human rights defenders, censors free speech, limits free movement, and tortures and mistreats detained journalists and activists.”

By contrast to previous G20 meetings hosted elsewhere, there will be no opportunity to protest and to exercise the right of peaceful assembly “in a country where all gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, are prohibited.”

Furthermore, Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Transparency International pointed out that “the C20 process led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory, as required by the C20 Principles.”

Democracy Without Borders expressed solidarity with the boycott.

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