The European Parliament’s biggest political group, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), will not be supporting a resolution defending human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The resolution to be voted on Thursday (8 October) singles out the plight of Ethiopian migrant workers in the Kingdom but also highlights imprisoned women rights defenders and others.
“It is a pity that the largest democratic group refuses to take part,” said Belgian socialist MEP Marc Tarabella.
“We would prefer to include the biggest democratic party and the EPP is the largest group in the European Parliament.”
Tarabella is vice-chair of the Delegation for Relations with the Arab Peninsula.
He said the EPP had walked out of talks during negotiations on the resolution, which comes less than a week after the two-year anniversary of the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, 2018. A trial carried out by the Saudis to jail those responsible was later described by the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, as a parody of justice.
MEP Tarabella’s views were broadly echoed by Belgian socialist MEP Marie Arena, chair of the parliament’s sub-committee on human rights.
“You can have a very strong negotiation with some that are onboard but after they [EPP] decided not to sign, I don’t know who is onboard,” she said.
Although the core of the resolution narrows in on Ethiopian migrants, she too pointed out the need to help women rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.
“It is not only with Saudi Arabia, the situation of the migrant issue, it is also when it comes to Libya or Turkey or Europe,” she said.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International documented conditions of Ethiopians detained in Saudi Arabia.
It said Huthi authorities in Yemen had expelled thousands of Ethiopian migrant workers and their families to Saudi Arabia, where they are then imprisoned.
“Confined to filthy cells, surrounded by death and disease, the situation is so dire that at least two people have attempted to take their own lives,” said Amnesty.
The NGO says detainees had also witnessed children die. Most are being held in prisons in Jeddah and Mecca.
Human Rights Watch drew similar conclusions, noting that some 30,000 Ethiopian migrants, including pregnant women and children, are arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia.
Thursday’s plenary resolution says they are being kept in horrific conditions after being forcibly expelled from northern Yemen by Houthi authorities.
German Green MEP Hannah Neumann said the resolution is demanding urgent action.
“We are calling on the Saudi authorities to immediately release all detainees, prioritising those in a most vulnerable situation, including women and children,” Neumann told EUobserver, via email.
Neumann chairs the parliamentary Arab Peninsula delegation.
She also said the resolution demands the immediate release of Sakharov laureate Raif Badawi and women rights’ defender Loujain al-Hathloul.
Beyond the scope
Luxembourg’s MEP Isabel Wiseler-Lima, who negotiated on behalf of the EPP, said they had walked out of the talks because other group negotiators went beyond the scope of the resolution.
“I decided to leave the negotiations for a joint motion for resolution on the Ethiopian migrants in detention centres in Saudi Arabia, and recommend that we not sign it,” she said.
Wiseler-Lima said she wanted to keep the focus on the migrants, while the other groups expanded it to cover other issues ontop.
“I agree with points raised, but this urgency was not the right place for it,” she said.
Centre-right and rightwing MEPs have in the past voted against similar resolutions on Saudi Arabia.
In September, its own party chair German MEP Manfred Weber voted against a statement demanding EU countries refrain from selling weapons to the Saudi in the context of the war in Yemen.
When asked why, he did not respond to EUobserver.
November G20 summit in Riyadh
The episode comes ahead of the G20 summit to be held virtually in Riyadh in late November.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Khashoggi, last week demanded world leaders refrain from attending the summit.
An internal letter is now circulating within the European Parliament, telling European Union leaders to downgrade their G20 delegation.
The two-page letter, seen by this website, is addressed to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Council president Charles Michel.
“We should not legitimise a government committing egregious human rights violations as host of one of the most important summit meetings in the world,” it states.
The letter is set to be sent next week.
Asked if the EU would heed the call to downgrade the delegation, a spokesperson told reporters that they prefer to foster dialogue in the area.
“There are regular discussions with Saudi Arabia are on these issues and it is very clear what are positions and principles are in that area,” he said.
This article was updated at 8:25 on 8 October 2020 to include a statement from the centre-right MEP Isabel Wiseler-Lima.