NYC Library Ditches Controversial Saudi Royal MBS’ Event

Active Citizens, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Peace, Press Freedom, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi prince Mohammad bin Salman. Credit: James Reinl/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2019 (IPS) A New York library appeared to bow to pressure this week when it canceled an event that was being co-hosted by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is accused of a range of human rights abuses.

On Wednesday, the New York Public Library (NYPL) said it was scrapping the so-called Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum, a workshop on Sept. 23 that was being co-hosted by bin Salman’s Misk Foundation and U.N. youth envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. 

The event had been blasted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other campaign groups, who said it served to whitewash bin Salman’s reputation after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year — reportedly on the crown prince’s orders. 

Evan Chesler, chairman of the NYPL board, said that dropping the workshop was the “appropriate thing to do” after weeks of protests and an online petition that had garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

In a statement, the library said it had cancelled the “space rental” amid “concerns about possible disruption to library operations as well as the safety of our patrons” amid “public concern around the event and one of its sponsors”. 

It remains unclear whether the Misk Foundation will seek an alternative venue for the workshop at short notice. A U.N. spokesman told IPS it was “up to Misk to provide information on whether the event will take place elsewhere or not”.

Saudi Arabia’s mission to the U.N. and the Misk Foundation declined to comment on the controversy.

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Khashoggi, a prominent critic of bin Salman. 

“This week’s protests show that the public will not keep quiet while the leadership of the NYPL, a treasured repository of civilisation, hires our library out to the butcherer of Khashoggi,” Matthew Zadrozny, president of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, told IPS.

“The NYPL leadership must explain to the public it serves who signed the deal with bin Salman’s foundation and why.”

Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, blasted the “repression-whitewashing event” on Twitter and asked U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres to scrap the partnership between his youth envoy, Wickramanayake, and the crown prince’s charity. 

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of rights group PEN America, said the library had made the “right choice”, addiing bin Salman’s government had “orchestrated the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

“Hosting this event just days before the anniversary of Jamal’s killing would have been particularly appalling not just for his family, friends, and colleagues, but also for those currently being persecuted in the kingdom.”

Nossel also noted that the library “is the crown jewel of the literary community in New York” and it stands for “free exchange of ideas and free expression, qualities that the crown prince has repeatedly disdained in both words and actions”.

The NYPL event was set to see some 300 budding young entrepreneurs learn about green themes, corporate responsibility and other parts of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda.

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who frequently criticised the Saudi government, was killed and dismembered on Oct. 2 last year after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he collecting documents for his wedding.

The CIA assessed that bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s killing. U.N. expert Agnes Callamard has described the death as a “premeditated execution,” and called for bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudis to be investigated.

Officials in Riyadh, who initially said Khashoggi had left the premises unharmed, now say the journalist was killed by a rogue hit squad that did not involve bin Salman. Activists have since pushed for accountability over the killing.


Human Rights Watch Disappoints on Human Rights

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, Natural Resources, Peace, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo.

GENEVA, Jul 25 2019 (IPS) – On 22 July 2019, Kenneth Roth published an article in Publico, Lisbon, entitled: “UN Chief Guterres has disappointed on Human Rights”.

This essay lampooning Antonio Guterres is not a voice “against the tide” but very much mainstream – and demonstrably skewed. Major NGOs headquartered in rich advanced countries and enjoying generous funding from the Establishment may not always think “out of the box” and are as likely, as are the interest groups which support them, to politicize human rights and therefore to disappoint rights holders in smaller or weaker countries.

While they do contribute to exposing situations of human rights violations worldwide , they are not exempt from biases which reflect the structure of their central governing bodies or the cultural environment within which they operate. They cannot arrogate to themselves the sole legitimacy to speak in the name of the civil society of many countries , and when they claim to do so, they may disappoint rightsholders, particularly in the developing countries, whose priorities are frequently different from theirs.

Kenneth Roth’s bludgeoning of the UN Secretary General in this regard is yet another expression of grandstanding and even of a measure of arrogance. HRW’s criticism of China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, would be more persuasive if the organisation addressed with the same intensity the egregious violations of human rights in many other countries

Sober analysis and stocktaking are necessary to determine whether and to what extent the priorities and agendas of NGOs’s like HRW are set by the overall interests of the established power-structures and multiple elites in many countries. Kenneth Roth’s article expressing disappointment at the human rights performance of Secretary General Antonio Guterres fails to identify the root causes of human rights violations.

His admonitions have little or no preventative value, and do not formulate constructive recommendations such as, for instance, the provision of advisory services and technical assistance to many countries that need it and have asked for it.

HRW’s “naming and shaming” strategy has been inconclusive at best because “naming and shaming” depends on the authority of the “namer” and the impartiality of the methodology. Kenneth Roth’s bludgeoning of the UN Secretary General in this regard is yet another expression of grandstanding and even of a measure of arrogance. HRW’s criticism of China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, would be more persuasive if the organisation addressed with the same intensity the egregious violations of human rights in many other countries.

For instance, Mr. Roth does not mention the denial of the right of self-determination to millions of people, the retrogression in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights (prohibited by the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the looting of natural resources and degradation of the environment by transnational corporations and their neocolonial schemes, the impunity enjoyed by politicians who engage in aggressive wars and by paramilitaries and private security companies, the devastating human rights impact of blockades by source countries and economic sanctions on the populations of Gaza, Syria, Iran and Venezuela, which have caused and continue to cause tens of thousands of deaths.

The politicization or as we now witness with concern, the“weaponization” of human rights is taking the world on a slippery slope. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)was adopted in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Malik, René Cassin and others spoke of human dignity and the inalienable rights of human beings, but article 29 of UDHR also reminded us that “everyone has duties to the community”.

Indeed, what is most necessary is global education in human rights, including the human right to peace, education in empathy and solidarity with others – compassion, not predatory competition in “the human rights industry” on a “holier than thou” ticket.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should not be expected to act as a Human Rights NGO. This high office is not that of an unaccountable activist. It is neither that of a general that can blast any state at will nor is it a secretary that has to be subservient to the prevailing powers that be.

That high official must recognize the reality of the power balance that he cannot fundamentally alter but must strive with obduracy and at times courage to stretch the international community towards more compliance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Most importantly this means the promotion of peace through conflict-prevention, good offices, impartial mediation, disarmament and yes, human rights. When all diplomacy fails and only then may “naming and shaming” become an option. But it is a default option and a sign of diplomatic failure.

In the experience of both of us as Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council, we have delivered on our mandates, not by openly challenging the authority of states or claiming to teach them lessons in human rights but by giving quiet diplomacy a chance .

This is how one of us together with another Independent Expert facilitated a lifting of the sanctions on Sudan and this is how we are again currently engaging with protagonists of other conflicts. We have succeeded in confidence-building and contributed to the release of detainees. Persevering and discrete advocacy bears fruit.

We want a SG that puts values above politics in human rights matters and this is, in our opinion, what Guterres is doing. We have a Secretary General that can speak for truth and can at least listen to the narratives of the smaller and weaker states who have no access to the world media and whose action is distorted by biased reporting.

Of course the murder of Khashoggi is a tragedy because beyond the tragic loss of a human life, it is the freedom of expression that is targeted. But Kenneth Roth does not mention the thousands of migrants whose lives end in the liquid graves of the oceans because saving them at sea is becoming a criminal offence in some « enlightened » nations.

Are there different values attached to life according to the « exploitability » of its loss for political aims? We do not think that the Secretary General should go down along this road, even if this may cause disappointment in some quarters.

We would be really concerned if the Secretary general were to follow the path of selective indignation advocated implicitly by Mr Roth, because he would lose the moral leadership that we all, people of good will, can identify with across the world. THAT would be a major disappointment.

We welcome in Antonio Guterres a Secretary General who does not hesitate to call a spade a spade, a SG who promotes peace and does not stoke conflict, who challenges unilateral economic sanctions, who supports the Right to Development1 and places the Secretariat of the United Nations in its service. We welcome a SG who, together with the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, are engaging all of humanity in the noble task – day by day – of implementing civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights in larger freedom – and in good faith.

Idriss Jazairy Special Rapporteur, UN Human Rights Council
Alfred de Zayas Former Independent Expert, UN Human Rights Council