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NEW YORK(October 30, 2020) – On Friday, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) sent letters to participants of the Think 20 (T20) Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia requesting that they consider...

NEW YORK(October 30, 2020) – On Friday, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) sent letters to participants of the Think 20 (T20) Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia requesting that they consider withdrawing from the conference as a symbol of support for human rights and rejection of the Kingdom’s brutality against dissidents.

The T20 summit, taking place October 31 to November 1, claims to be based on a vision for a “future of prosperity, sustainability, and inclusion.” It is an engagement group featuring public intellectuals and Nobel prize laureates that prepares for the G20 summit, which will also be hosted by Saudi Arabia on November 21-22. Meanwhile, some of Saudia Arabia’s most notable human rights defenders and dissidents languish in prison.

“The goal of the conference is to whitewash the regime’s crimes by allowing Saudi Arabia to present itself as a progressive, forward-thinking country instead of the authoritarian dictatorship it really is,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.

The severe restrictions that the Kingdom enforces on its own citizens will not apply to attendees of the T20 conference, who will be able to freely discuss some of the most important problems of the day, such as climate change, immigration, and the economy. Missing, naturally, from the program’s discussions are conversations about authoritarianism or basic human rights.

On the topic of women’s rights, the conference will feature panels on “Promoting Inclusivity to Empower Women and Youth,” “Women’s Engagement, Empowerment, and Inclusion for Greater Economic Prosperity – What’s Working, What’s Not?” and a keynote speech about “Female Inclusion – Actionable Pathways from Tokenism to Transformation.”

Outside the curated limits of this conference, however, Saudi women are treated like second-class citizens. They cannot fully and freely access education and healthcare services, get married, or exit prison without permission from a male relative. Worse, several Saudi women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz, are currently in prison for having peacefully campaigned against this anachronic male guardianship system, which enables a permanent violation of their human rights. They have been subjected to torture that includes — but is most certainly not limited to — electric shocks, flogging, sexual abuse, and prolonged solitary confinement.

The HRF letter sent to participants details how, despite recent initiatives (such as the T20 Summit) that portray a more moderate image of the country through global engagement and cosmetic social reforms, Saudi Arabia regularly engages in the systematic repression of activists and human rights defenders, often leading to numerous years of imprisonment, without trial, and the use of repressive measures against them.

By hosting panels on women’s rights, international cooperation, and economic security, the Saudi regime wishes to distract the world from the terrible conditions of women in the Kingdom, the war it is perpetuating in Yemen, and the repressive conditions citizens of the Kingdom face every day.

Participants in this conference hold tremendous influence in the media and include highly regarded public intellectuals and Nobel laureates. Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman counts on using and manipulating that influence — as he repeatedly does with numerous organizations, unsuspecting Hollywood celebrities, music festivals, and business summits — to bolster his own reputation and regain credibility, both locally and abroad. Instead, HRF urges participants to use their platform to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia and contribute to a mission of increasing global democratic freedoms.

The following participants received a letter from HRF:


Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Nobel Laureate, Columbia University


Ban Ki Moon

Secretary General (2007-2016), United Nations and President, Green Growth Institute


Professor Tatsuyoshi Saijo

Program Director, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Koichi University of Technology


Dr. Samir Saran

President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)


Torsten Thiele

Global Ocean Trust and Senior Research Associate, Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies


Jules Kortenhorst

Chief Executive Officer, Rocky Mountain Institute


Johan Swinnen

Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)


Danielle Nierenberg

President, Food Tank


Dr. Peter H. Gleick

President-emeritus, Pacific Institute and Member, US National Academy of Sciences


Professor David Hannah

Professor of Hydrology, UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences, Director of Research, College of Life and Environment


Andrew Steer

President and CEO, World Resources Institute


Mark Girolami

Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Cambridge


Read the letter in full here.


The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For interview requests of further comment, please email [email protected].