We express a strong protest against Government’s decision to support Saudi Arabia instead of Italy for the organization of the world exhibition EXPO 2030, as announced in the press release from the 64th session of the Government of Montenegro. We consider it scandalous that the Government in this way endorse the undemocratic regime of Saudi Arabia, which brutally and massively violates human rights. Furthermore, It is scandalous that Montenegro has reneged on its promised support to Italy, its neighbour and a member of the European Union, which Montenegro aspires to join.
Below, we highlight just a few facts that illustrate the severe breaches of international human rights standards in the non-democratic state of Saudi Arabia:
- Saudi Arabia (SA) violates the right to life:
- Between March 2022 and June 2023, Saudi border guards killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants who were trying to cross the border from Yemen. Among them were women and children (Human Rights Watch).
- The coalition of states led by SA in Yemen has been waging war for years in violation of international humanitarian law. Civilian casualties were especially caused by reckless bombing, as reported by an independent group of experts commissioned by the UN (Human Rights Watch; Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen).
- In October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a 58-year-old journalist residing in the United States, a columnist for The Washington Post, a democracy advocate, and a critic of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was brutally murdered inside the SA consulate in Istanbul. SA agents drugged, killed, and then dismembered his body. Initially, SA denied any involvement in the murder. However, the footage of Khashoggi entering the consulate and strong international pressure led to SA later convict five of its agents based on their confessions. However, according to the UN special rapporteur, their trial was not fair. According to the U.S. Department of State report, Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder, and there are no indications that SA has effectively investigated his role in the case.
- Saudi Arabia (SA) extensively applies the death penalty:
- In 2022, SA executed 196 death sentences, and by the end of June this year, they executed even 61, making it the second-highest-country in the world for executions, just behind Iran (Amnesty International, European Saudi Organization for Human Rights).
- On a single day, on 12 March 2022, 81 people were executed. According to the data of the SA Ministry of Interior Affairs, those executed were convicted solely for organizing a protest and calling for a protest (Amnesty International). Half of those executed belonged to the Shiite minority, and some reportedly did not receive fair trials and claimed their confessions were extracted under duress (Human Rights Watch).
- The families are not informed about the executions of prisoners. At least 140 bodies have not been returned to their families for burial after the execution (European Saudi Organization for Human Rights).
- SA does not ensure fair trials and freedom of expression:
- In 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced at least 15 individuals, including foreign nationals, to prison terms between 15 and 45 years for expressing opinions and views on the social platform Twitter, following highly unfair trials (Amnesty International, European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, UN special rapporteurs).
- In August 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Salma al-Shehab, a doctoral student and activist, to an astonishing 34 years in prison solely for tweeting in support of women (Amnesty International).
- In March 2022, blogger Raif Badawi was conditionally released from prison after serving a ten-year prison for establishing a debate internet forum. He is prohibited from leaving SA for the next ten years (Amnesty International).
- SA applies the death penalty even to those who were children at the time of the alleged crime (Amnesty International).
- SA prohibits association human rights advocacy associations:
- The work of organizations for the protection of human rights is prohibited by the Law on Associations. Human rights defenders and those suspected of such activities in 2022 were arbitrarily detained and subject to abuse (Amnesty International).
- Women face systematic discrimination in SA:
- In March 2022, Saudi Arabia adopted a new Law on Personal Status, which discriminates against women. Only men can legally serve as guardians, and women must obtain permission from a male guardian (father, brother, or relative) to marry. Once married, they are obliged to obey their husbands. Moreover, the law does not guarantee equal rights for women and men in cases of divorce or separation (Amnesty International).
- Sexual minorities are sentenced to death in SA:
- Same-sex sexual intercourse is a crime in Saudi Arabia, punishable by death, and transgender individuals are also subject to criminal prosecution (Human Dignity Trust).
- SA kills and abuses migrants:
- In addition to the mass killings on the border with Yemen, migrant workers are abused and exploited in SA. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained in inhumane conditions, subjected to torture, and then forcibly deported to their home countries (Amnesty International).
For all the reasons mentioned above, we as citizens, associated in organizations for the protection of human rights, strongly protest against the support that the Government of Montenegro has provided to Saudi Arabia’s candidacy for EXPO. We warn that one must note turn a blind eye to the murders, abuses, discrimination, and violations of freedom of expression that characterize governance in that country.
We expect the new Government to change this decision, which does not reflect well on Montenegro.
We also expect the new Government to abandon such a trade-off approach to human rights and the rule of law, both domestically and in foreign relations.
In the meantime, we also expect the Prime Minister in the technical mandate, Dritan Abazović, to provide more detail information to the public regarding “the multi-million dollar amount with which Saudi Arabia plans to support the University of Montenegro” , because, according to our information, the Ministry of Education of Montenegro has not been informed about this matter.
Human Rights Action
Center for Investigative Journalism – CIN CG
Centre for Civic Education (CCE/CGO)
Center for Women’s Rights (WRC)
Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM)
Center for Women and Peace Education ANIMA
Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI)
Center for the Development of Non-Governmental Organizations (CDNGO)
Center for Civil Liberties (CEGAS)
Montenegrin LGBTIQ Association Queer Montenegro
Center for Democratic Transition (CDT)
Montenegrin Publishers’ Association
European Association for Law and Finance (EALF)
Institute for Media of Montenegro (IMCG)
Safe Women’s House (Shelter)
SOS Phone for Women and Children Victims of Violence – Podgorica
Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro (UMHCG)