Lawmakers urge EU to downgrade presence at Saudi-hosted G20

20.10.2020

Sixty-five European lawmakers have signed a letter calling for the European Union (EU) to downgrade its attendance at next month's G20 summit in Riyadh over human rights concerns, according to a document released on Monday.

The letter signed by European Parliament members follows a wide-ranging resolution passed earlier this month that also appealed for the downgrade to "avoid legitimising impunity for human rights violations" in Saudi Arabia, the current G20 president.

A downgrade would imply Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, do not take part in the virtual summit if they heed the call of lawmakers.

"We should not legitimise a government committing egregious human rights violations as host of one of the most important summit meetings in the world," said the letter addressed to Michel and von der Leyen.

"We ask you to re-evaluate your participation in this year's G20 summit and consider not attending, but instead downgrading the level of the European Union participation to a senior official level," added the letter seen by AFP.

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.

It was unclear whether Michel and der Leyen will accept the written appeal.

But the resolution and the letter, which coincides with the two-year anniversary of the brutal murder in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, send what a lawmaker called the parliament's "strongest political message yet" to the kingdom.

As a full member of the G20, the EU is a major economic power at the table along with three of its member states – Germany, France and Italy.

The summit is set for November 21 and 22.

A decision by the EU to downgrade their representation would be a major embarrassment for Riyadh at what is widely seen as the most important event for Saudi international diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia, the first Arab nation to host the G20, had planned for a grand summit that would showcase the ambitious modernisation drive of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose international reputation was tarnished by Khashoggi's murder.

But the coronavirus pandemic has dampened those hopes, making a physical summit impossible.

In a further blow to Riyadh, the letter demands that the EU refrain from seeking closer economic ties with the kingdom.

"Our strong view is that unless Saudi Arabia makes progress on (human rights) the EU should not consider formalising deeper relations on trade, investment or foreign affairs with the kingdom," the letter said.

The human rights issues listed in the parliament resolution included the incarceration of women's rights campaigners including Loujain al-Hathloul as well as other activists, journalists and bloggers.

It also highlighted the detention of multiple Saudi royal family members, among them the former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and Princess Basmah bint Saud.

"The parliament does not want to get back to business as usual with Saudi Arabia," said Ernest Urtasun, a Spanish member of parliament who was among those who signed the letter. "We want to have a tough stand when it comes to human rights violations."

Should der Leyen and Michel still choose to attend the summit, the letter urged them to "place human rights at the centre of all G20 discussions".  (AFP)

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