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IGF in Saudi Arabia: not with that human rights record

Content note: The following post contains references to violence, sexism and misogyny, torture, and murder.

The United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum (IGF) should not be held in Saudi Arabia in 2024 due to the country’s abysmal human rights record. The government’s protracted history of civil society oppression would make it unviable for civil society to freely and safely participate in the meeting, excluding the very voices that give legitimacy to the Forum.

Through an open letter, Access Now, Association of Progressive Communications (APC), and civil society partners are calling on the IGF to reverse this decision and urgently review the decision-making process.

It is unsafe and absurd to announce Saudi Arabia as the host country for the 2024 Internet Governance Forum. A government that oppresses and persecutes women activists, silences critics, and obliterates free press cannot be granted the opportunity to stand in front of the world’s stage — propped up by the United Nations — and purport to welcome a diversity of civil society and other actors ‘as equals’ to address the most pressing internet-related issues of our time. Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now

Watch the direct intervention by Access Now and APC at the closing of IGF Kyoto 2023:

The government of Saudi Arabia uses online technologies to muzzle and intimidate activists, human and women’s rights defenders, and members of the media, and violate the rights of the people who live there through censorship and surveillance. Saudi Arabia uses real-life torture and murder to silence journalists and those critical to the regime, while outlawing same-sex relations and criminalizing forms of gender expression.

The IGF is a “global multistakeholder platform that facilitates the discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the internet,” and cannot function in an arena that excludes or threatens women, LGBTQ people, and civil society.

Civil society’s voices are needed to shape online spaces and inform their governance. The senseless decision to host the Internet Governance Forum in Saudi Arabia where these voices will be excluded will not lead to a safe, inclusive internet — it will threaten it. Peter Micek, General Counsel and UN Policy Manager at Access Now

The co-signers of the open letter, representing a group of more than 45 organizations from around the world, are demanding the IGF: 

  • Not grant Saudi Arabia host country status for the global IGF annual meeting, and immediately review the decision to do so;
  • Incorporate a robust, thorough human rights due diligence process in the review of this and future decisions about host locations;
  • Commit to hosting the IGF in contexts where civil society can freely and safely participate; 
  • Take the necessary steps to identify a host location for 2024 in alignment with these commitments, and explore all available alternatives to ensure civil society and other actors facing heightened risk have meaningful pathways for engagement; and
  • Ensure sustainable funding and renewal of the IGF mandate with safeguards for robust civil society participation.