Saudi Arabia: Groups call on project management consultancies to divest from NEOM giga construction project following land activist shooting by govt.

In April 2020, activist Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti was killed by Saudi security forces when protesting his community's forced expulsion from their land in Al- Khuraybah to make way for the development of giga-project NEOM. Saudi Arabia's NEOM gigaproject is an estimated $500bn construction project to create a futuristic city encompassing towns and cities, ports, tourist destinations and entertainment centres. It aims to be 33 times the size of New York City.

Al-Howeiti was a member of the minority Howeitat tribe and had long-protested the removal of his community as "state terrorism". He documented his resistance and the presence of security forces in videos posted on social media. In one of the last videos that he posted, al-Howeiti alleged that the project had already started and community members already being removed.

Shortly after, Saudi authorities arrested eight members of his family and community leaders, and have acknowledged that they killed al-Howeiti. They allege that he had refused to surrender to security and had responded to them with open fire. Reports have since emerged that al-Howeiti's body, along with those of at least 90 other activists, has been withheld from the victims' families. As of 23 April, his body was returned. A more comprehensive timeline of events detailing the interactions between the development and the local community from 2017 can be found in the Al Qst article below.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre approached the NEOM Co. to invite them to respond to the allegations, including that locals had expressed opposition to the project and that there had been a lack of clear consultation in the development process. They did not respond.

We also approached Boston Consulting Group, Mckinsey & Company and Oliver Wyman who are engaged as project consultants for the project, to invite them to respond to the killing. BCG's response can be read in full below. Mckinsey & Company and Oliver Wyman did not respond initially.

In June 2020, NGO Al Qst published an open letter signed by a coalition of 12 organisations calling on the three project management consultancies to reflect publicly on their legal and moral responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles, to engage in consultation with local communities and affected stakeholders and to reassess their involvement in the NEOM project in light of the death of Abdul-Rahim.

BCG did not provide further response to the letter. Mckinsey & Company did provide a statement in response which can be read in full below; it neither addresses the content of the letter and its recommendations, nor the original allegations with which they were approached by the Resource Centre.  Oliver Wyman did not respond to raised allegations. 

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Company response
26 June 2020

McKinsey & Company re killing of land defender Abdul-Rahim Al-Howeiti at NEOM, Saudi Arabia

Author: McKinsey & Company

Download the full document here

NGO rejoinder
2 June 2020

Open Letter From NGOs Calling On Companies Involved In Saudi Arabia’s NEOM Project To Condemn Human Rights Violations Accompanying It

Author: ALQST for Human Rights, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS, CODEPINK, European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), Freedom Forward Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) & Just Foreign Policy MENA Rights Group

We are concerned that your involvement in the project has failed to prevent the adverse human rights impact on the local population... which take place within the wider crackdown on civic freedoms in Saudi Arabia. 

We wish to highlight your moral and legal responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and, as such, urge your companies to respond to these concerns and immediately issue a public statement explicitly condemning the violations being committed... we call on you to reflect upon your responsibilities, and... urge your companies to reassess involvement in the NEOM project, and to cease engagement entirely.

Read the full post here

Company response
13 May 2020

Boston Consulting Group re killing of land defender Abdul-Rahim Al-Howeiti at NEOM, Saudi Arabia

Author: Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Download the full document here

Company non-response
13 May 2020

Oliver Wyman re killing of land defender Abdul-Rahim Al-Howeiti at NEOM, Saudi Arabia

Author: Oliver Wyman

Company non-response
29 April 2020

Neom re shooting of land rights defender Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti for protesting project

Author: Neom Co.

27 April 2020

Mohammed bin Salman’s Bloody Dream City of Neom

Author: Sarah Leah Whitson & Abdullah Alaoudh, Foreign Policy

For hundreds of years, the [Huweitat] tribe had occupied villages and towns, including a historical capital, Khuraybah, across the northwestern province of Tabuk. Now, some 20,000 people are set to be pushed out to make room for Neom...

Rather than consult with the local community and seek to integrate them in the region’s ambitious plans, the government has treated its citizens like disposable objects...

[Authorities] started issuing property confiscation orders in early January... offer[ing] residents only vague, verbal promises of temporary apartments and unspecified compensation... there was no judicial process involved in reviewing the tribe’s objections to the development project, their forced displacement, or the terms of the compensation.

Read the full post here

25 April 2020

Saudi Authorities Attempt To Cover Up Their Killing Of Abdul Rahim Al-Huwaiti, By Bribing Members Of His Tribe To Disown Him And “Renew Allegiance”

Author: Al Qst

Not only did [Saudi authorities] kill Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti... they are hoping to pull off a major publicity stunt by getting prominent figures among the Huwaitat to publicly disown Abdul Rahim and “renew their allegiance” to the king...

the Tabuk emirate (regional authority) invited a number of the Huwaitat to a meeting to discuss the matter.. [those who did] were promised SR100,000 (US$27,000) each, and SR300,000 (US$80,000)... to take part in a propaganda exercise involving a public celebration at which they formally disown Abdul Rahim and members of the tribe resisting eviction.

Read the full post here

23 April 2020

Saudi Arabia Hands The Body of Slain Tribal Activist to His Family

Author: Al Bawaba (Jordan)

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have reportedly returned the body of slain popular tribal activist Abdul-Rahim Al-Howeiti to his family, following vigorous opposition to his burial in the town of Al-Khuraybah, amid reports that 8 members of his tribe have been arrested for refusing give way for the controversial NEOM megacity project...

According to an official government statement, Al-Howeiti – a charismatic tribal activist known for his highly vocal, long-standing opposition to the forcible displacement of nearly 20,000 members of his centuries-old Howeitat tribe – engaged security forces in a firefight, before succumbing to gunshot wounds...

The move is akin to a rare instance where Saudi authorities have cowered in the face of mounting grassroots pressure. 

Read the full post here

22 April 2020

Report: Riyadh Refuses to Hand Over The Bodies of Saudi Activists to Their Families

Author: Al Bawaba (Jordan)

Saudi Arabia is reportedly withholding the bodies of at least 90 activists, among them critics of the construction of a controversial megacity project on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast...

The report did not give details on whether the activists had been killed by regime forces during protests or executed.

Among those whose bodies are being withheld is Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti, who was shot dead by Saudi forces in the al-Khuraybah area of the northwestern Tabuk region earlier this month...

The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) blasted Saudi Arabia for withholding bodies of activists, saying the practice violates international law and runs counter to Islamic teachings.

Read the full post here

16 April 2020

Saudi activist's killing exposes local tensions over Neom construction

Author: Nadda Osman & Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Middle East Eye

The shooting of a Saudi tribal activist protesting his eviction as part of the construction of Neom... has increased local tensions over the project...

authorities acknowledged security forces had shot Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti dead... [they] also said that Howeiti had refused to surrender to security forces and had opened fire...

According to social media posts and videos posted by Howeiti, the activist refused to leave his home, an area said to have been occupied by the Howeitat tribe for hundreds of years, when the incident took place...

Howeiti recorded footage from his roof, showing dozens of Saudi security forces, saying that “whoever refuses expulsion or signing, this is what they do to him”.

Read the full post here