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Human Rights Groups Applaud London Mayor for Boycotting Saudi Summit

"No mayors in good conscience should agree to attend the U20 Summit until Loujain and the other imprisoned Saudi human rights defenders are freed and the bombing and blockading of Yemen ceases."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, seen here in 2017, said Wednesday he would not participle in a summit for international mayors hosted by Saudi Arabia.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, seen here in 2017, said Wednesday he would not participle in a summit for international mayors hosted by Saudi Arabia. (Photo: East London Mosque/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women-led peace group CodePink on Wednesday welcomed what they called "another victory" after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced he would not be attending a Saudi Arabia hosted-summit to indicate he does not support the ruling monarchy in Riyadh.

The gathering in question is the Urban 20 (U20) Mayors Summit, a three-day event that kicked off Wednesday ahead of the virtual G20 summit, chaired by Saudi Arabia. The third and final day of U20, Oct. 2, marks the two-year anniversary of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi's brutal assassination, which the CIA said with "high confidence" was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Middle East Eye first reported that Khan was boycotting the mayors' event.

"No one is representing [Khan] at the summit or speaking on behalf of London," a spokesperson for the mayor told the outlet.

While it would be normal practice for someone from the Greater London Authority to observe the event, "to avoid any implication that this observer status means support for the Saudi government, the GLA, exceptionally, will not dial in to view any of the U20 summit sessions this year," the spokesperson said.

Khan, along with other international mayors, had been under pressure to skip the summit, with human rights campaigners calling Saudi Arabia "an unfit and inappropriate host" with "a long record of silencing the very voices that are necessary for a meaningful global conversation regarding the massive challenges we collectively face" and a "brutal record" that has worsened since MBS took power in 2017.

A coalition of rights groups, in a letter to Khan, said the kingdom must take steps toward reform including approving an international and independent probe into Khashoggi's killing, ending its systematic violations of women's rights, and stopping the war during which it has "has bombed, blockaded, starved, and slaughtered thousands of Yemeni civilians."

CodePink Yemen campaign manager Danaka Katovic, in an email to supporters of her group in London, drew focus on Saudi Arabia's bombing of Yemen as a reason they must pressure Khan to ditch the U20.

"It's been around 2,000 days since MBS started ordering airstrikes on Yemen. Mayor Kahn needs to send a message that he does not endorse or shake hands—even virtually—with brutal murderous dictators," Katovich wrote in her letter. "Yemen has endured over five years of air raids and blockade. As the suffering of Yemenis continues at the hands of MBS, no mayor should agree to participate in the summit."

The London mayor is now the fourth mayor of a major city who's said they would not take part in the summit over human rights concerns. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have all said they will not take part in this year's U20.

CodePink co-director Ariel Gold says it's incumbent upon other mayors to follow suit,

"Since March 2018, Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been languishing in prison for her activism calling on Saudi Arabia to grant women the right to drive," said Gold. "No mayors in good conscience should agree to attend the U20 Summit until Loujain and the other imprisoned Saudi human rights defenders are freed and the bombing and blockading of Yemen ceases."

"I hope that the mayors of Chicago, Houston, and more will quickly follow Khan, de Blasio, and Garcetti in rejecting the invitation," Gold said.

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