ALQST recently learned of a new three-month contract for Washington public relations company Qorvis Communications to provide a Saudi university with consultancy and PR services relating to Saudi Arabia’s official Human Rights Commission (HRC) and human trafficking issues. This is yet another illustration of the Saudi authorities’ top human rights priority: to whitewash, rather than improve, their dismal record. The HRC had previously hired Qorvis directly, with a year-long contract signed in 2020.
ALQST has accessed a copy of the latest contract, worth $750,000 plus further fees for additional services, which was filed on 8 June 2022 with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The contract was signed on 23 May 2022 by Dr Mashael bint Awied al-Mutairi, Dean of the Development and Consulting Services Institute at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, and Michael Petruzzello, President of Qorvis LLC.
The Saudi HRC was established in 2005, officially “to promote and protect human rights in accordance with international standards, to increase awareness of such rights and to contribute to ensuring that such rights are enforced in the light of the Sharia”. Its constitution says it is “the government body responsible for issuing opinions and advice on human rights matters” and that it “enjoys full independence in the performance of its statutory functions", but also that it “reports directly to the king”.
In practice, the Commission operates as an arm of the Saudi authorities’ public relations machine, promoting a rosy image of the human rights situation in the country on its website, actively pushing the authorities' message in high-level meetings at home and abroad, especially in the West, and validating egregious human rights abuses or misrepresenting the facts.
Working to eliminate the abhorrent practice of trafficking in human beings is one area of human rights in which the Saudi authorities are reported to have made some genuine efforts to improve, albeit from a low baseline, moving up from Tier 3 (the worst) to Tier 2 in the US State Department’s 2020 categorisation of countries on this basis. However, the Saudi authorities have been eager to highlight this area of progress to enhance their overall image on human rights, while otherwise maintaining their repressive rule and horrific rights violations – without comment from the HRC. The authorities continue to suppress all criticism or dissent, carry out arbitrary arrests for the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, and make greater use of the death penalty, following grossly unfair trials, than almost any other country in the world – while the HRC continues to praise the country’s rulers at every turn.
ALQST therefore urges Qorvis Communications to drop its latest contract to polish the image of the HRC, and to stop working on behalf of the Saudi authorities. ALQST also reiterates its call for the HRC to make its priority defending human rights, rather than cheerleading for the Saudi authorities, and to establish its independence in line with the Paris Principles by seeking accreditation from the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.