By Louisa Campbell
Baroness Helena Kennedy of the House of Lords has called on global nations to shun the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia unless jailed women’s rights activists are released. Kennedy declared that these women’s advocacy for human rights “is seen as an afront to the power structures in Saudi Arabia”.
The spotlight of the G20 summit this year seems to have fallen on the presenting nation themselves. Saudi Arabia playing host, albeit virtually, has been the cause of “deep disquiet” for human rights activists across the world.
Human rights groups are concerned first and foremost with the detention of women activists, the most infamous being Loujain al-Hathloul. She vehemently opposes the male guardianship system and first became notorious for her campaigning on the right of women to drive. Today, she is in the midst of a hunger strike whilst being detained in dismal conditions. According to her family, Loujain has been beaten, given electric shocks, and threatened with rape whilst residing in state facilities.
Moreover, the Human Rights Watch have also called for the release of these women and for Saudi Arabia to “provide accountability for past abuses”. A catalysing factor for attention on Saudi Arabia’s violations was the 2018 murder of a journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed and whilst eight men were sentenced, the global consensus is that the “masterminds” of the operation have never been held accountable.
Additionally, the five year long conflict with Yemen is still ongoing and has caused a diabolic humanitarian crisis. The UN stress the extent of civilian casualties and advocate for access to Yemen and an end to arms sales in Saudi Arabia. Yet unsurprisingly, Saudi officials ardently claim that during this conflict they have never targeted civilians .
The Saudi government stressed that “our judiciary is independent”, condemning the international community for passing judgment on their courts. However, Human Rights Watch continue to call out Saudi Arabia for “image laundering” which involves investing money into entertainment and sporting events in attempt to hide their human rights abuses.
Clearly Saudi Arabia has deeply rooted policies and customs which violate the international code on human rights. Whilst amending these is a monumental proposition, what can be achieved in the present day is releasing the detained women to their families. In the words of Helena Kennedy, “this is an unacceptable abuse of human beings” and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.