Transparency International and others remonstrate over G20 Summit’s civil society process in Saudi Arabia

In a joint public statement, Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Transparency International announced that they would not be attending the annual ‘Civil 20’ (C20) meetings this November, hosted in affiliation with the annual G20 Summit by Saudi Arabia.

On the surface

G20s provide photo opportunities and have in the past, led to useful communiques from the leaders of the world’s largest economies. The media release notes that:

“Despite the many limitations and challenges of the process, for many voices from outside government – especially trade unions, rights groups and civil society – these are rare opportunities to make policy recommendations directly to national authorities and to influence the global agenda on issues that affect billions of people.

Traditionally they are also a forum for public protest. For the last few years, there has even been a dedicated stream of meetings for civil society within the G20, known as the Civil 20 (C20).”

Of growing concern

G20 host Saudi Arabia has tried to promote an image of itself as a modern country attractive to foreign investors. The Saudi government 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. It also discriminates against women.

The joint statement goes on in detail about the numerous aspects of Saudi government control that are not supportive of the C20’s fundamental principals. Further, it observes that many civil society actors who normally attend G20 meetings, are excluded. Those who are eligible to attend cannot safely communicate their positions.

The joint statement concludes

“The Saudi-led C20 process is lacking in many respects, most notably in guaranteeing the C20’s fundamental principles. Even this early in the 2020 C20 process, we have observed a marked lack of transparency from the C20 hosts. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. 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.

At a time when the world is facing a wide range of challenges to democracy, independent voices are needed more than ever. A state that closes civic space until it is virtually non-existent, cannot be trusted to guarantee the basic conditions for international civil society to exchange ideas and collaborate freely on any issue, let alone those issues it deems sensitive or offensive.

While we will not participate in the C20 this year, we commit to work together to make sure those voices are heard in 2020.”

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