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UN Human Rights Council experts "express alarm" over imminent executions connected to Neom

The United Nations Human Rights Council has issued a statement denouncing the planned executions of three people for reportedly opposing the Neom mega project in Saudi Arabia.

In a statement published this week, a group of independent United Nations Human Rights Council experts urged the Saudi authorities not to carry out the executions.

"UN experts today expressed alarm at the imminent risk of execution of three members of the Howeitat tribe in Saudi Arabia and urged authorities to halt the process," said the statement.

The concerns relate to three members of the Huwaitat tribe – Shadli al-Huwaiti, Ibrahim al-Huwaiti and Ataullah al-Huwaiti – who were reportedly sentenced to death by Saudi Arabia's Specialised Criminal Court on 2 October 2022.

Experts do not believe threshold for death penalty met

Human rights organisation ALQST reported that the three men were sentenced after being "forcibly evicted" from the Neom site. The UN experts believe that Saudi Arabia's sentencing of the men, and three others, contravenes international law.

"Under international law, states that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes', involving intentional killing," the experts said. "We do not believe the actions in question meet this threshold."

"All six individuals have been charged under the overly vague 2017 Saudi law on combating crimes of terrorism and its financing," they continued.

The group of experts – Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Irene Khan, Morris Tidball-Binz, Priya Gopalan Matthew Gillett, Ganna Yudkivska, Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Pichamon Yeophantong, Damilola Olawuyi, Fernanda Hopenhaym, Elżbieta Karska, Robert McCorquodale, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and Alice Jill Edwards – were also critical of the process that is being used to relocate people ahead of the construction of the mega project in the northeast of the country.

Actions "constitute flagrant violations" of human rights

Parts of the project are planned for lands traditionally held by the Huwaitat tribe, and Ibrahim al-Huwaiti was reportedly part of an official delegation that met Saudi government officials to discuss securing land for the Neom project.

"Given the circumstances, we cannot consider that the requirements of consultation and free, prior and informed consent of the Howeitat people of the three villages have been met," said the experts.

"On the contrary, these actions would certainly amount to forced evictions, which are prohibited under international law as a violation of the right to adequate housing," they continued. "The actions also constitute flagrant violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information."

The controversial Neom project is planned to have 10 regions including a 170-kilometre-long, mirror-clad skyscraper (main image) reportedly designed by studios including Adjaye AssociatesMorphosisStudio Fuksas and Coop Himmelb(l)au. A ski resort designed by Zaha Hadid ArchitectsUNStudioAedasLAVA, Mecanoo and Bureau Proberts also forms part of the project.

Along with urging the Saudi government to halt the executions, the experts also asked companies working on the project to make sure that they are not "linked to serious human rights abuses".

"We urge all companies involved, including foreign investors, to ensure that they are not causing or contributing to, and are not directly linked to serious human rights abuses," they said

In an exclusive interview last year, Amnesty International's Peter Frankental told Dezeen that architecture studios were "benefiting" from alleged human rights violations at Neom.

The project has also been criticised for its sustainability claims, with experts calling them "naive".