Saudi Arabia will host the G20 summit starting on Saturday, a date that marks almost a month since Loujain al-Hathloul, a local women’s rights activist who has been in prison for two years, started a hunger strike to protest against being barred from seeing her family.
Hathloul is not the only activist suffering at the hands of the Saudi government. She was one of several women arrested at different points in 2018 for fighting for women’s rights. While some have now been released pending trial, Nouf Abdulaziz, Aida al-Ghamdi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah remain detained in unacceptable conditions.
They have suffered enormous injustice at the hands of the Saudi government, especially since Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, assumed the reins of control. In a cruel twist, shortly after they were arrested, it was announced that one of the things they were fighting for — the right to drive — would be granted.
In a recent report for the human rights institute of the International Bar Association, I urged participant states to demand the immediate release of these women. The country’s leaders should refuse to attend the summit until this is done. A boycott will send the clear message that human rights abuses will no longer be tolerated.
Saudi Arabia should not have been allowed to host the summit after the murder of Khashoggi. We cannot allow the detention and torture of women activists to become another transgression that the world is willing to ignore. There must come a point at which impunity for crimes must end and that point has arrived.