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Rights groups urge World Expo organizers to rethink Riyadh bid

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : May 22, 2023 - 15:08

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A scenic view of Riyadh (123rf) A scenic view of Riyadh (123rf)

A dozen human rights advocacy groups led by the Switzerland-based MENA Rights Group have in an open letter called on World Expo organizers not to consider Riyadh as a potential host for the World Expo 2030.

In the letter dated May 16, the groups cited concerns that the event could be used to "whitewash" the country's human rights record, which includes the continued use of the death penalty, crushing of human rights activism, silencing of women’s rights advocates and targeting of dissidents beyond its borders.

Without taking human rights violations in Saudi Arabia into account when assessing Riyadh's proposed World Expo event for 2030, the Bureau Internetional des Expositions might bear the "risks bringing the organization and event into disrepute," the groups said in the letter.

"The Saudi authorities’ systematic human rights violations flies in the face of the very spirit of World Expos," read the letter.

The letter indicated that Saudi Arabian authorities carried out death penalties on 147 individuals in 2022 "following unfair trials."

It also pointed to rights abuses against critics or peaceful protesters, even beyond Saudi Arabian borders.

For example, dissident Prince Abdullah bin Faisal al Saud was sentenced to 30 years in jail in November because of calls he made to relatives in the United States that were wiretapped, and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in a high-profile case inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018.

Riyadh has been registered as one of the candidates for the World Expo 2030, along with Busan, South Korea; Rome, Italy; and Odesa, Ukraine. The host city will be selected in November.

The Saudi capital is looking to become the Middle East's second host city of the event, which happens every five years. The first to do so was Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which hosted the Expo in 2022 after a two-year delay due to the pandemic.

The UAE faced criticisms by rights advocacy groups such as Equidem and Human Rights Watch over its attempt to whitewash its records of incarcerating human rights activists and over the breach of labor rights of Expo site construction workers.

The criticisms led to the European Parliament's passage of a resolution to boycott the World Expo in Dubai in 2021.