Publication date: 16/02/2023

The Saudi authorities are still pursuing a vicious campaign of prosecutions against members of the Huwaitat tribe who objected to their forcible eviction in 2020 for construction of a futuristic megacity, Neom. The full extent of these ongoing violations is documented by ALQST in its latest investigation, The Dark Side of Neom: Expropriation, expulsion and prosecution of the region’s inhabitants. The report calls on investors, consultants and businesses involved in Neom and other Saudi projects to avoid becoming complicit in gross human rights abuses.

ALQST’s detailed report, containing much previously unpublished information, is based on first-hand testimonies from victims and witnesses as well as open-source data. It paints a disturbing picture of the serious human rights violations being committed in connection with Neom, the $500 billion megacity being built on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast as the centrepiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” economic programme.

Before construction began, the region’s inhabitants – predominantly members of the 20,000-strong Huwaitat tribe – were illegally dispossessed of their properties and forcibly evicted from their homes, often without compensation. In the process, one man, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, was shot dead by the security forces. In addition, dozens of Huwaitat members were arbitrarily arrested for peacefully resisting the tribe’s forcible displacement and speaking out against the injustices inflicted on them. In 2022, several were sentenced under counter-terrorism legislation to exceptionally harsh prison terms of between 15 and 50 years, and at least five were even sentenced to death. This came at a time when the Saudi courts had started handing down unprecedentedly harsh sentences on other peaceful activists. 

The violations perpetrated against the Huwaitat tribe are not isolated incidents. There have also been large-scale demolitions and evictions of approximately half a million people in connection with the $20 billion Jeddah Central development project. The Saudi authorities’ total disregard for human rights in these contexts has profound implications for businesses, partners and investors involved, or considering involvement, in Neom and other projects in Saudi Arabia. As such, ALQST’s report urges such stakeholders to look closely at their corporate responsibilities and take steps to avoid becoming complicit in the Saudi authorities’ human rights abuses.

ALQST's Executive Director Julia Legner comments: "The serious human rights violations committed in the context of Neom, including illegal land seizures and forced displacement, as well as arbitrary arrests, outrageous prison terms and even death sentences, clearly contradict the Saudi authorities’ narrative of liberal reform. And Neom is just one of many projects in the crown prince’s Vision 2030, so such violations will continue to be perpetrated elsewhere in the country. It is high time for companies and investors involved in these projects, many of which are UK- and US-based, to reassess their human rights responsibilities.”

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