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15 human rights groups urge BIE to reject Saudi Expo bid in final week

Nov. 23, 2023 - 15:40 By Moon Joon-hyun
Attendees from Saudi Arabia arrive at the Grand Palais Ephemere for the Riyadh 2030 reception event to promote Riyadh's candidacy for 2030 World Expo, in Paris on June 19. (Newsis)

A coalition of 15 human rights groups has issued a plea to the 2030 World Expo organizer Bureau International des Expositions, imploring the members to reject Saudi Arabia’s bid on Wednesday, just six days ahead of the final decision.

The group, represented by Democracy for the Arab World Now, called on the members to reject the bid from Saudi Arabia, citing the kingdom’s troubling human rights record. The appeal lays out a detailed dossier of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, arguing that these issues are in direct conflict with the values and objectives of the World Expo.

The Expo, designed as a celebration of international cooperation and progress, stands in stark contrast to the situation in Saudi Arabia, where freedom of expression and civic engagement are severely restricted, the press release read.

It posits that allowing Saudi Arabia to host the international event could be interpreted as an endorsement of these human rights violations.

Central to the coalition’s concerns is the record number of executions -- 196 in 2022 and at least 112 in 2023 -- which the group argues is antithetical to the ethos of human rights and global unity promoted by the World Expo and BIE.

In addition, the imprisonment of activist Mohammed al-Qahtani in 2013 and the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, confirmed by international bodies, are highlighted as examples of the state's oppressive actions.

Further concerns are raised about the treatment of women's rights advocates. Despite some improvements in women's rights, the harsh repercussions faced by activists including Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi and Loujain al-Hathloul underscore persisting gender equality issues, according to the group. The case of Sarah al-Jaar, sentenced to 27 years for nonviolent social media posts, is cited as notably vile.

"Human rights adherence is one of the most basic criteria for a country to be considered a suitable host for international events, period," Shin Yul, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Myongji University, told The Korea Herald.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in October, had urged sports organizations to prioritize human rights in their event selection criteria.

"Even though this moral standard hasn't always been consistently enforced, I'm still optimistic. It's quite unusual for one country to host two major global events back-to-back, like the World Expo in 2030 and the World Cup in 2034," Shin added.

Saudi Arabia was awarded the 2034 World Cup as the sole bidder at the deadline earlier this month.

The decision on the host city for the 2030 World Expo will be made at the BIE's annual general assembly in Paris on Tuesday, with Saudi Arabia's Riyadh competing against Korea’s Busan and Italian capital Rome for the hosting rights.