WTO Urged To Reject Saudi Arabia’s Nominee For Director General

19 organizations criticize nominee’s complicity

in Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations


In a letter released today, 19 organizations across the United States and Europe are urging World Trade Organization member states to reject Saudi Arabia’s nominee for the position of WTO Director General.

Saudi Arabia’s nominee Mohammed al-Tuwaijri is a minister-ranked advisor to the Saudi Royal Court and a board member of the government’s controversial sovereign wealth fund. Al-Tuwaijri formerly served as Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Economy during one of the worst government crackdowns against human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents in Saudi Arabia’s recent history.

The full letter is available here.

Freedom Forward Executive Director Sunjeev Bery stated, “Saudi Arabia and its nominee are the worst possible leaders for the WTO. The WTO has a stated aspiration of advancing transparency in world trade, but having a representative of a corrupt and brutal monarchy in charge of the WTO would accomplish the exact opposite.”

Mohamed al-Tuwaijiri has served as a Saudi government official since 2016, during brutal crackdowns on former government officials, economists, women’s rights advocates, human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents. Throughout this time, al-Tuwaijri has remained silent and continued to advise the royal court.

Joshua Cooper, Deputy Director of ALQST for Human Rights stated, “Allowing a high-ranking government official in Saudi Arabia to take up this post would send a clear message that the WTO is willing to turn a blind eye to the Saudi authorities’ systematic human rights violations. They must reject his nomination as a matter of urgency.”

Saudi Arabia’s nomination has been criticized as another attempt of the Saudi government to improve its tarnished global reputation by seeking international positions of power.

The organization founded by the slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), endorsed the letter to the WTO. According to DAWN’s statement, “The WTO has no business promoting Saudi Arabia to lead the organization at a time when its human rights record is abysmal and its indiscriminate bombardment and total embargo of Yemen continues without pause.”

AlTuwaijri sits as a board member of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which the Wall Street Journal reported may be the “world’s least transparent” sovereign wealth funds. The PIF’s NEOM mega-city project has been responsible for the wrongful displacement of 20,000 local tribe members, several of whom have been detained for voicing criticism. One public critic, Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti, was slain in his home by Saudi authorities in April of 2020 to make way for the project.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain, stated, “The nomination of Mr. Mohammad al-Tuwaijri is yet another attempt by the Saudi government to use the WTO to whitewash its human rights violations. The international community should reject and oppose this nomination.”

While al-Tuwaijri was acting as the Minister of Planning and Economy, the Saudi government conducted a brutal detention and crackdown on business and political elites in the country, including the arbitrary detention and likely torture of hundreds of former officials and business elite in 2017.

“The murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which Saudi Arabia is responsible for, is just one small part of its repressive conduct,” said the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Program Director William D. Hartung. “Appointing a representative of the Saudi regime as Director General of the World Trade Organization would represent an implicit endorsement of that government’s reprehensible behavior, from imprisoning and torturing prisoners to suppressing women’s rights to carrying out a brutal war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.”

The Saudi economy is built upon fundamentally repressive rules that violate the rights of women and foreign workers.  Saudi women’s lives remain under the repressive male guardianship system. Saudi Arabia’s “kafala system” requires every foreign resident in Saudi Arabia to be under the sponsorship of their employer or spouse, and requires the permission of the sponsor even to exit the country. The 2019 U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia stated that, “individuals under sponsorship were “unable to exercise their right to remove themselves from dangerous situations,” and often victims of severe rights violations.