A prominent tribe in Saudi Arabia has appealed to the United Nations for help in preserving their presence on their ancestral lands. The Saudi authorities continue to pressure them to leave for its landmark NEOM mega-city project in the north-west of the Kingdom on the Red Sea coast.
Al-Hwaitat tribal leaders called on the international organisation to investigate the Saudi authorities’ forceful displacement and abuse of tribal members. The tribe’s London-based representative, Alya Alhwaiti, told Al Jazeera that the appeal was submitted late last month after thirteen of the tribe’s members were arrested and abducted by Saudi security forces.
Friends and relatives have no idea where the tribesmen, including activist Suleiman Mohammed Al-Taqique Al-Hwaiti, are being held. Two other members of the tribe were arrested on 1 October as they passed Fahad Bin Sultan University, reportedly for criticising the Saudi government and its mega-city project online.
“What we want is for the world to support us in our case,” explained Alhwaiti, “to show them how the Mohammed Bin Salman regime is abusing the people, terrifying the people.”
Over the past two years, the Saudi government has been planning for the construction of its NEOM mega-city, which is hoped will attract companies and investment from all around the world, as well as being a centre for technological advancement.
In its preparations, though, the government’s security agencies have increasingly used force to expel members of Al-Hwaitat tribe who refused to move even after compensation was offered to them. Tension was exacerbated when a leader of the tribe, Abdul Rahim Al-Hwaiti, was shot and killed by Saudi authorities when he refused to vacate his home while posting a video online criticising the forced displacement.
One of the lawyers who submitted the request to the UN, Rodney Dixon QC, said that the Kingdom’s policy of displacement is a “violation” of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. “The rights of internally displaced people and Indigenous rights are enshrined in the UNDHR, which does bind Saudi Arabia,” Dixon pointed out. “What we’re also focusing on are the human rights abuses – where people are being threatened, assaulted and murdered. It’s also the violation of a person’s rights to life, and their right to wellbeing and safety.”