In December 2019, the Ladies European Tour announced that it would hold a tournament in Saudi Arabia from the 19th to the 22nd March 2020 in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.
While this announcement can be seen as an embedment of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing”—hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years.
Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into the prominent journalist’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.
In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented to the Council her investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the killing reflected a broader crackdown against activists, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Special Rapporteur called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into business deals with business, businesspeople, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role with Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.
The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders— applying a counter-terrorism framework to arbitrarily detain, torture and put on trial dozens of them for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya al-Zahrani, Nassima Al Saddah and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.
These women were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in 2018 in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. It was reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere to.
While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive and removing travel restrictions for women over 21, the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe lack of gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.
The world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) has unprecedentedly scrutinized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in 2019. In March 2019, Iceland on behalf of 36 States delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, expressed serious concern over the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention as well as accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi. In September 2019, Australia delivered another joint statement that set out a list of measures that the Saudi government should take to improve its human rights record, which to this date the Saudi government failed to comply with.
Lastly, we also draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which provide that businesses should seek to prevent (...) adverse human rights impact that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts. The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in events is essential to upholding your credibility.
In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs have called on Ladies European Tour organizers, players, and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.
Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Ladies European Tour fans to help increase awareness and show solidarity by sharing on social media messages of support and solidarity with #StandWithSaudiHeroes.
While official Ladies European Tour voices and players are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the sport around the world speak up, too. You too can help the activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle. In the lead up to the tournament, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.
- Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- Equality Now!
- Gulf Center for Human Rights
- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
- MENA Rights Group
- Women’s March Global
 See full recommendations to corporations on page 98- Section K: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_CRP.1.docx