Preclinical Studies Demonstrate Galimedix Therapeutics’ Investigational Compound GAL-101 Shows Neuroprotective Effect from Toxic Amyloid-Beta in Dry AMD and Glaucoma Models

KENSINGTON, Md. and SHORASHIM, Israel, May 08, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Galimedix Therapeutics, which is developing new solutions for ophthalmic and neurodegenerative diseases, today presented data demonstrating its novel, first–in–class, investigational compound GAL–101 provides neuroprotection from misfolded amyloid beta molecules aggregating into toxic forms in vitro, neutralizing their ability to be toxic to neural tissues. Further, investigators discovered that peak levels from a single delivery of the compound may provide sustained detoxification. The poster was presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from April 28 to May 2, 2019.

"The unique mechanism of action of GAL–101 has been shown to reduce the levels of amyloid beta present in the retina, thereby both preventing neurodegeneration and increasing the chances of preventing vision loss. However, this poster further demonstrates that a single peak administration of the compound by eye drops may also provide a sustained detoxifying effect in dry AMD and glaucoma patients," commented Dr. Hermann Russ, lead author of the paper and Chief Scientific Officer of Galimedix. "These preclinical data, combined with a positive result in the Phase 1 study have made it possible for us to move rapidly toward a Phase 2 program for which we will provide updates when available."

In the poster, investigators reported that eye drops of GAL–101 in repeated monkey models resulted in concentrations in the retina rapidly reaching levels far in excess of the threshold for initiating the peak–related pharmacological effect, and remained in those levels for at least four hours. Furthermore, in age–related macular degeneration (AMD) mouse models with substantial amyloid beta deposits in the retina accumulated during many months, GAL–101 eye drops when given for 1–3 months resulted in substantially less amyloid beta deposits, and simultaneously reduced the levels of C–complement response, which is considered a central factor leading to the progression of dry AMD.

About GAL–101
GAL–101 is a proprietary compound designed to prevent the formation of all forms of toxic amyloid beta oligomers, by binding with high affinity to the misfolded amyloid beta monomers before they can form toxic soluble oligomers. These then rapidly conglomerate into amorphous, non–beta–sheet formations, which we call "clusters," which are innocuous. Interestingly, once GAL–101 concentration reaches effective levels it "triggers" formation of the "clusters", which then have shown the capacity to collect additional misfolded amyloid beta monomers even in the absence of additional GAL–101 molecules, through a self–propagation mechanism. This novel "trigger effect," protected by Galimedix' patent portfolio, results in a sustained effect lasting far longer than the time a single administration of the drug remains at therapeutic levels in the retina, potentially allowing for a convenient interval application regimen for patients. Thus, GAL–101 drops may potentially provide sustained prevention of formation of toxic amyloid beta oligomers in the retina, leading to a reduction of complement response and their consequent damage. Thus GAL–101 could contribute to slowing or stopping progression, and possible restoration of neural function depressed by the chronic toxic attack.

About Galimedix
Based in the United States and Israel, Galimedix is a Phase 2 ready ophthalmic pharmaceutical company with a world class drug development team advancing a novel, patented small molecule drug with a novel MOA addressing glaucoma and dry AMD utilizing an eye drops delivery platform, which may offer significant safety and compliance advantages over commonly used direct ocular injections. Eye drops are used to deliver steroids and other small molecules, like GAL–101, to the retina, and studies with Galimedix's eye drops in monkeys have demonstrated therapeutic levels quickly reaching the retina of the closest model to humans. Compelling efficacy data from GAL–101 eye drops in relevant animal models have demonstrated more than 90 percent neuroprotection, and the compound is supported by several leading experts in glaucoma and in dry AMD who also support the design of the company's proposed Phase 2 studies.

Galimedix has exclusive worldwide license from Tel Aviv University, following return of license by a German pharma (Merz) due to management change and strategic pivot away from neuroscience. The license also includes a next generation, potentially superior molecule intended for oral delivery, with potential to treat retinal and other CNS diseases.

Jules Abraham
Core IR

US Withdrawal From Iran Nuclear Deal: One Year On

By Dan Smith
STOCKHOLM, May 8 2019 – On 8 May last year, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sets limits on Iran’s nuclear programme to ensure that it cannot produce nuclear weapons.

Despite the US withdrawal, the JCPOA remains in force; it is a multilateral agreement to which seven of the original eight parties still adhere.

When they arrived at the agreement in July 2015, the parties to it were Iran, the USA, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union. A few days after the JCPOA was agreed, it was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

The JCPOA limits Iran’s uranium enrichment programme until 2030 and contains monitoring and transparency measures that will remain in place long after that date. Along with other international experts, SIPRI’s assessment from the outset has been that the agreement is technically sound with robust verification procedures.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for monitoring Iran’s JCPOA implementation. It has consistently found that Iran is fully living up to its undertakings. In short, well-crafted and properly implemented, the JCPOA closes off Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons, should it decide to go in that direction.

The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the Iran nuclear deal in July 2015.

However, Saudi Arabia, Israel and most US Republican politicians opposed the agreement. Donald Trump made abandoning the deal a keynote of his 2016 election campaign.

Like most other critics, he has described as major flaws the JCPOA’s temporary nature and its lack of controls on Iran’s ballistic missile programme. He is also highly critical of Iran’s actions in Syria and elsewhere in the region, which he characterizes as its ‘malign behaviour’.

This makes it clear that, rather than an evidence-based technical objection to the agreement or its implementation, the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA was a political measure aimed against Iran.

The time-limited nature of the JCPOA is by no means unique—the major US-Russian strategic arms control agreement, for example, expires in 2021. It is normal in such cases to find an appropriate opportunity to discuss extending the agreement.

Regardless of its views about Iran’s regional policies and actions—or, indeed, about the policies and actions of its regional rivals such as Israel and Saudi Arabia—the US withdrawal from the JCPOA is ill-conceived and regrettable for many reasons.

It undermines the value of multilateral diplomacy and raises questions about the sanctity and sustainability of interstate agreements.

Furthermore, it challenges the authority of the UN Security Council, which has unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the JCPOA and calling on all UN member states as well as regional and international organizations to take action to support the agreement’s implementation.

US withdrawal from the JCPOA risks seriously weakening trust and confidence in international institutions and arrangements that are essential parts of the global security architecture.

In particular, the US action undermines the global effort for nuclear non-proliferation by sabotaging an important and effective anti-proliferation agreement. It is to be hoped that the remaining parties to the JCPOA will find ways to support its continued implementation.

Leaving No One Behind: Young People’s Participation at UN

By Dumiso Gatsha
GABARONE, Botswana, May 8 2019 – Walking down 44th street towards UNICEF House was a poignant moment for me: having sought out resources, gone through strenuous immigration processes and having had my assumptions unraveled with the realities of New York City (NYC). This was it.

I must stress my experience as a first timer in NYC. I was shocked at how unclear the air is, the uncleanliness in public spaces and the fears I had just by being in America.

I quickly reflected on how many other developed countries always surprised me in a more positive way. Despite coming from a developing country, Botswana; it is in NYC that I literally choked on the impact of climate change.

It is here, that I feared walking down the streets with my rainbow bracelets would result in hate speech or violence. It is also here that income inequality is so blatant and glaring on most street corners I walked past. Many countries are the same.

However, having known of the American Dream and its advancements within human rights and development; my awareness to the world and its injustices has been heightened.

The Global Action Plan (GAP) initiated in 2018 is a commitment by 12 development organisations and UN agencies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)s and exploring avenues of ensuring that no one is left behind in the process.

In many countries, young people are denied access to comprehensive health for being bigger bodied, loving the wrong person or not having the means to get to a health facility. There has been progress in reducing maternal mortality, addressing some gender disparities and improving policies for better service delivery.

However, it is not enough as new HIV incidences, backdoor abortions and reliance of substances influence the health and wellbeing of young people. Being the majority demographic in Botswana and Sub Saharan Africa; young people are at risk of what can be prevented or better managed.

The data that often informs policy makers is quantitative and relies on standardizing or averaging a population. This often excludes the outliers; those most vulnerable to systematic injustice, economic exclusion and under-servicing beyond health. These do not occur in isolation.

There are determinants that enable these wrongs; illicit financial flows, corruption, pollution and inherent bigotry. When the symptoms of violence against women, harmful political propaganda or institutionalized racism emerge; we live in a world of more pain than love.

At Success Capital NGO, young people have discovered the importance of linking lived experiences to high level commitments. We acknowledge that despite there being limited resources and reach, we must ensure that the voices of those most marginalized and vulnerable should be heard.

We have discovered that an enabling environment will move young people from being survivors of injustice and socioeconomic complexity, to young people that strive and succeed to the best of their diversity and dreams. What does this look like?

It compromises of a world where laws encourage equity in opportunity, impede impunity in private sector practices and enable the spirit of Botho/Ubuntu among communities. Botho in Tswana or Ubuntu in Nguni is understood as empathy, being equals in a collective or being in existence because of another.

This is unique to the African context and central to ensuring that no one is left behind – particularly because the world is largely unequal. It acknowledges that privilege, power and patriarchy still exist and manifest themselves in variant ways.

By aligning service provisions in health, strengthening governance mechanisms and ensuring inclusive economic participation; everyone can have a place for belonging and becoming. It is through storytelling and documenting these within the frameworks of UN treaty bodies, special procedures and other advocacy/accountability mechanisms that some change can be encouraged.

GAP acknowledges that there are shortcomings when organisations or movements work in isolation. There can be duplicate work, inefficiency or even exclusion in practices. For example: we asked ourselves about the 10% left out by the UNAIDS’ 90:90:90 strategy or how ILO has not facilitated establishing norms around gender favorable home-care or social protection guides for care-givers in poverty-stricken homes.

Similarly, why would legislators believe policing bodily autonomy would impede, reduce or mitigate people’s decision making in issues of consensual sex?. The same applies for attempts to not recognize or accommodate those who do not conform with variants of migration, profession, gender, family, cultural lifestyle, ethnicity, beliefs, genitalia or sexual orientation.

Diversity has never been a threat to a community or ideology. However, in this era of misinformation, lack of citizen participation and populism; it has been easy to create phobias around people and issues that have existed generations before us. It is in reshaping the narratives that exist in our daily experiences that we can truly fulfil the aspirations of democracy and multilateralism.

Young people are increasingly fighting for the space to share their experiences and the intersecting issues that affect them. Good education can hopefully get you meaningful employment, which in turn may enable a better personal life and access to health care, inclusive of mental wellbeing.

Similarly, the ability to advocate for one’s rights and freedoms at community, domestic, regional and global levels can ensure those most excluded and marginalized can have a say. The UN certainly has a long way to go in encouraging states and enabling meaningful and diverse youth participation, particularly from the Global South.

However, it needs the private sector, civil society and community civic participation to ensure everyone can contribute towards the SDGs. A world that can be kind enough to collectively work towards peace, civility, belonging and everyone’s prosperity can ensure no one is left behind by 2030. It all starts with dialogue in your areas of influence and Botho.

* Dumiso Gatsha is a Fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and independent consultant for state shadow reports, participatory human rights research and grassroots civic action.

Success Capital is a youth led, managed and serving NGO based in Gaborone, Botswana.

Impatient Optimism for GGGI

Midway through my tenure at GGGI, I realize now is an ideal time to reflect upon my experience, look at where the organization stands and examine what is happening in the world around us

Credit: Frank Rijsberman.

By Frank Rijsberman
SEOUL, May 8 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(GGGI) – On October 1, 2016, I officially began my four-year term as Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). Together with GGGI’s Members, Management Team and staff, I started an exciting journey, implementing the Work Program and Budget (WPB) 2017-18 approved by the Council, while at the same time building and redesigning GGGI’s business models.

The past two-and-a-half years have seen change in the organization’s business processes, which include shifting focus to country offices from the Seoul headquarters; moving toward putting more emphasis on results – focusing on GGGI’s 6 Strategic Outcomes in its Refreshed Strategic Plan 2015-2020 as well as its business plans, projects, corporate results frameworks and impact assessment work; and bringing flexibility and adaptability in its project cycle.

In a world where I believe the aid industry will be disrupted, and many other disruptions will affect our Members, providing both threats and opportunities is key. Will our Members be leaders? Or will they be followers? Will they leapfrog, or see an ever-widening gap? Will they be disruptors or be disrupted.

Now, we are in the midst of developing a strategy for the next 10 years, known as GGGI’s Strategy 2030. To drive the formulation of the Strategy 2030, we are in the process of examining thematic areas, value creation models and outlining broad goals that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. GGGI recently held its Ninth Meeting of the Management and Program Sub-Committee (MPSC) at the Institute’s Seoul headquarters where our Members were given an opportunity to actively engage in and contribute to the organization’s strategy development process.

Midway through my tenure, I realize now is an ideal time to reflect upon my experience, look at where the organization stands and examine what is happening in the world around us.

I am always optimistic, but impatient optimism is also the mantra of Bill and Melinda Gates that I share completely. This phrase refers to optimism that development actually works and has brought huge progress to billions of people, despite the nay-sayers and that we need to be impatient given the urgency of the challenges we face. Whether you take your inspiration from the IPCC 1.5 degree report, or the environmental events such as the 2018 forest fires and droughts, or the air pollution crisis in Seoul – there are plenty of goods reasons to be impatient to see progress at scale, and be optimistic that we can make it happen. That is why I am proud to be an impatient optimist!

In 2007 in Silicon Valley, Apple launched the first iPhone, and Google and its colleagues were busy disrupting many industries. None of us book our travel and hotels like we used to or find restaurants like we used to. I haven’t visited my main bank in France in years, as I do all my business with them online. Amazon is worth more than the next five biggest retailers put together. And we are in the middle of witnessing the renewable energy disruption and are on the cusp of the e-mobility disruption.

In his brand new book “ The Business of Changing the World”, Raj Kumar, editor in Chief of Devex, argues that we are also in the middle of a disruption of the aid industry – and I find that he puts very eloquently what have become my convictions as well during my period among the disruptors when I worked in Silicon Valley for and the Gates Foundation.

Raj Kumar argues that Old Aid is about:

  • Good intentions – focusing on how much money was spent.
  • The giver, the donor – with the other side referred to as the “beneficiary”.
  • Monopolies of the UN, the World Bank and some big donors like USAID and DFID (or “monopsonies” to be more).
  • Following the rules, rather than focusing on the results.

In contrast, New Aid is:

  • All about the results, first and foremost, and evidence-driven and based on data.
  • About the customers rather than the beneficiaries.
  • About many more new players – foundations, social entrepreneurs, start-ups, and even the mainstream private sector discovering the true triple bottom line.
  • But above all is about the results, delivering impact and being accountable, not covering our backs by having followed the rules.

Why does any of this matter for GGGI? In a world where I believe the aid industry will be disrupted, and many other disruptions will affect our Members, providing both threats and opportunities is key. Will our Members be leaders? Or will they be followers? Will they leapfrog, or see an ever-widening gap? Will they be disruptors or be disrupted.

History shows that the incumbents rarely manage to be the disruptors. AT&T would not believe that mobile phones would rapidly eat their landline business. The UN and the World Bank have been engaged in near-continuous reforms for decades now, but I don’t see them taking a lead.

In fact, all during my career I have encountered the pessimists that claim that new technologies will not be relevant for developing countries for a long time. That was the case in the early 1980s when I advocated for the use of personal computers in water resources management. Or later that decade when I wanted to distribute DVDs instead of books. Or more recently, in 2008-9 when few people believed that smart phones would be relevant for poor people in developing countries.

Midway through my tenure at GGGI, I realize now is an ideal time to reflect upon my experience, look at where the organization stands and examine what is happening in the world around us

Credit: Frank Rijsberman.

Yet, traveling for GGGI in 2017, going “off the grid” in Myanmar, poor people’s rural houses often had small solar panels outside, lighting one or two bulbs inside, and allowing people to watch movies on DVD players. Non-Governmental Organizations brought those solar home kits to the most remote villages. In Kiribati last year, the most remote GGGI presence I have visited, I was in a phone shop where they sold low-end smart phones for about $10. And big billboards outside advertised mobile banking – for people who never had a bank account, no credit rating, enabling them to send money to family in outer islands over their phones. Most people could not have imagined this 10 years ago – and yet we are planning for the next 10 years, where changes will, if anything, most likely be at a faster pace.


Credit: Frank Rijsberman.


What is our route and what is our destination? Will we be disruptors or be disrupted in the world of New Aid? I think the jury is still out – both are still possible – but I think we have worked hard to increase the odds that we can be disruptors, if that is the path we choose. I, for one, would love to be a disruptor, but it may well be a bumpy ride – fasten your seat belts!

My sense is that GGGI will have a chance to help its Member countries to transition their economies to a low-carbon future, contribute to solving dramatic global climate change, increase the blue skies and healthy landscapes, and provide decent green jobs for people to work in. These are what gets me up, and excited to come to work, in the morning.

From Sanctioning Iran to War?

By Haider A. Khan
DENVER, May 8 2019 – With the recent military moves announced uncharacteristically by the White House first, the world is witnessing with grim fascination what could turn out to be the early moves towards a war against Iran. How plausible is this scenario and what is likely to happen geopolitically if and when the US belligerence leads to an actual military confrontation with Iran?

Haider A. Khan

We have already seen this process of downward spiraling of US-Iran relations beginning with the US unilateral exit from the historical Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) without the consent from our European allies with the resulting division between the US and Europe regarding policies towards Iran. US also restored sanctions against Iran but gave some time for energy-needy allies to import energy from Iran against a deadline. Some like Japan complied grudgingly with the US orders. Others, particularly China and India went on importing Iranian energy.

Recently, the US has escalated the pressure on Iran by banning those countries still importing Iranian oil from doing so. If anyone does sanctions-breaking business with Iran they will be properly punished, the Trump administration has warmed. The sanctions may not work as well as Trump’s analysts and US propaganda machine have claimed; but even their partial effects could be a call for Iran to wake up. However, contrary to the wishful thinking of Trump, this wake-up call for Iran will mean in all likelihood, not to negotiate by capitulating to US demands. The sanctions together with the most recent military moves have already produced— according to all neutral observers’ reports— a “rallying-around-the flag” response by the majority of people of Iran. Contrary to the claims of some pro-US Iranian dissident groups abroad, pro-Israel lobbyists and Saudi-UAE propagandists, the sanctions have not weakened the regime politically in Iran at all. Ironically, the sanctions have isolated—indeed divided— the genuine pro-democracy critics of the Islamic Republic within Iran and have strengthened the hardliners politically.

As this further escalation using bullying rhetoric accompanied by confirming bullying behavior continues with more military moves by the US fleet and announcements from the White House— led by Bolton— the situation can only worsen. If the most recent episode is an indication after Bolton’s mpvesfirst, there will soon be echoes from other parts of the US government more directly in charge of foreign policy and military matters. If that keeps happening, the Iranian hardliners will surely double down and prepare for an asymmetric war—something they have announced already as a possible scenario. Given Iran’s military weakness vis- a- vis the US and its regional allies, such a response will seem to these military minds to be eminently rational in terms of military tactics. Anyone familiar with the recent developments in non-cooperative game theory will be able to understand this response as a logical deduction in the environment that the US has created with the series of moves that began with the US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The asymmetric response by Iran—the Iranian military strategists have made clear—will also draw in the Hezbollah and other Iranian military assets in the region outside of Iranian borders. Thus further future involvement of Syrians and even Turkey can not be ruled out at this point. Given the geopolitical strategic importance of both Iran and Syria to Russia, even if Turkey does not get involved, Russia will surely have to consider its options in terms of its long term geopolitical strategic interests. As a rising power, PRC may not become directly involved, but it is a safe bet that China will aid Iran financially and like Russia also by supplying some categories weapons—particularly aircrafts and surface to air missiles. If Trump thinks that attacking Iran will bring Chinese to the negotiating table to make further real concessions to the US, he is surely fantasizing.

This being the case, what will the US really gain geopolitically? According to political analysts, there are two groups in US high level policy making arena. Trump, it is claimed, is a transactions oriented leader and wants Iran to come to the table after suffering losses with a better deal for the US. But the details of how this could happen or what kind of deal the US could expect have not been revealed.

The second group centered around Bolton—according to the geopolitical analysts— wants to draw Iran into a military confrontation if economic sanctions by themselves do not lead to a regime change. Even in my worst case economic scenario for Iran a regime change from sanctions alone does not seem likely. So will the US or its proxies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia then engage in an actual military operation?

The very possibility is worrying. But sober calculations in light of outcomes of interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya do not seem encouraging. There is no prospect of a quick victory against Iran and any lengthy intervention will destabilize the region further. It is also not clear what the Chinese and Russian military responses in the medium run will be. The conflict may escalate into a regional war and even an extra-regional war depending on some of these responses.

Therefore, without sounding alarmist, one has to hope that Trump is bluffing even though Bolton and the neocons are not. But even if Trump exercises a false brinkmanship even when it is not necessary and will ultimately not work, in order to get the US a better deal— whatever that means— according to military logic, the Iranians will be foolish to act on the assumption that there is a substantial difference between Trump and Bolton leading to Trump’s putting an end to US moves towards a war or warlike situation. To be clear-eyed about this danger, from all available evidence, the Iranian strategists are preparing to not fall into a US laid trap by acting first and provoking a US military response that will start a war. However, once they think that US is about to start bombing Iran, they will surely take what they consider to be appropriate asymmetric actions. And therein lies the dangers of a conflagaration that can easily get out of any great power’s control.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, University of Denver. Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former Senior Economic Adviser to UNCTAD. He could be reached by email

Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

By Uma Mishra-Newbery and Kristina Stockwood
GENEVA, May 8 2019 – Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders.

A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

Since April 4, 2019, Saudi Arabia has arrested at least an additional 13 writers and bloggers, including two dual Saudi-American citizens and a pregnant feminist, in apparent retaliation against supporters of the detained women activists.

Along with the ongoing trials, the latest arrests serve to show that allowing women to drive was little more than a publicity stunt as part of a marketing campaign involving expensive golf tournaments, concerts featuring international celebrities, endorsements from some of the world’s richest multinational companies.

The past 12 months have been anything but the modern, revolutionary times promoted by Vision 2030 and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who has led a brutal crackdown on civil society and women’s rights since he came to power. Dissent is absolutely not tolerated.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – who had become a critic of the Crown Prince – was viciously murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi-led war on Yemen has continued, prompting numerous countries to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. Weapons and armoured vehicles have also been used to violently suppress public protests in Saudi Arabia.

Activist Israa Al-Ghomgham became the first woman activist to face the death penalty after she was arrested for peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 2015. While she is no longer at risk of capital punishment, she remains imprisoned and her co-defendants still could face death simply for protesting.

One of the most glaring human rights violations of the past year, however, has been the unlawful imprisonment and subsequent torture, sexual assault, and solitary confinement of numerous women human rights defenders.

Male guardianship has been further entrenched by a recently popularized app allowing men to track and control the location and travel of the women under their control (this app is readily available on Apple and Google Play, by the way). Rather than protesting the app, we should pressure Saudi Arabia to end the guardianship system.

Last May, Saudi Arabia arrested a dozen women’s rights activists just weeks before the Saudi government was set to lift its ban on women drivers. Most of these activists had been actively working for years to help end the guardianship system, and to lift the driving ban, publicly touted as part of the Crown Prince’s reform plan.

But before the ban was lifted, they received phone calls telling them to keep their mouths shut and just enjoy the fact that they could now drive. In June and July 2018, at least another eight defenders were arrested, bringing the total to over twenty known women’s rights defenders in detention.

Among the women who remain in prison since last year are Loujain Al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan Al-Enazi.

Not all of them have been brought to trial yet, and others can’t be named. Of great concern is that some reports put the number of rights defenders detained since Prince Salman came to power in the thousands.

According to numerous testimonies, some of the women detained last year were repeatedly tortured by electric shocks, floggings and waterboarding, leaving them shaking uncontrollably and unable to walk or sit properly and with bruises and scratches covering their thighs, faces and necks.

In addition to torture, several detainees have been subject to sexual assault and sexual harassment. At least one of the detained women attempted suicide multiple times.

On March 13, nine women’s rights defenders were finally brought to court with two other women. But none were given access to any legal counsel until the second session of the trial two weeks later.

Foreign reporters and diplomats were not allowed in court. The women found out that confessions signed under duress during interrogation would be used against them.

On March 28, 2019, three women were temporarily released, including long-time women’s rights campaigner and academic Aziza Al-Youssef and Eman Al-Nafjan, who blogs on women’s rights.

Cheering this release only contributes to the Saudi propaganda cycle. It doesn’t change the fact that they were severely tortured while arbitrarily detained for months, nor that they are still charged for their women’s rights activism and will be back in court in early June.

Not to mention that Al-Youssef’s son Salah Al-Haidar was among those arrested this April, along with feminist writer Khadijah Al-Harbi, who is pregnant.

At the second session of the trial, the judge indicated that more women on trial would be freed on bail yet on April 3, the women were again in court, and remained imprisoned. Instead, another round of arrests began the following day.

The next hearing and possible verdict for the eight women on trial who have not yet been freed was scheduled for April 17 but inexplicably cancelled.

Saudi Arabia continues to act with impunity – facilitated by the silence of the international community until recently. The actions of the Kingdom have been largely swept under the rug, disguised by the claim that it is reforming and modernizing.

Saudi Arabia is still a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), allowed a seat at the table despite their blatant disregard for human rights. This must change.

Recognising the jarring absence of action by international actors, civil society has filled the gap by actively calling for accountability of Saudi authorities and ensuring that the women’s rights activists who have been detained remain constantly in the public eye.

The #FreeSaudiWomen coalition, a group of seven NGOs advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of all Saudi women human rights defenders, created a petition which has been signed by nearly a quarter of a million people.

Continuous awareness of the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia is the first step. But there is more that can be done: acting to hold accountable governments, companies, performers and sporting groups that continue to engage with Saudi Arabia’s white-washing campaign, is the other.

Unless a systemic act of solidarity is enacted, Saudi Arabia will continue to use its economic and military power to suppress the fundamental civic freedoms of women’s rights activists in the country. On so many levels, we should be very scared that the United States thinks it’s okay to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia – with six deals recently approved secretly.

The Saudi crisis involves numerous key players and a solution might seem unattainable, but a world that does not act when a country arbitrarily imprisons and tortures its citizens sets a terrifying precedent for leaders across the globe.

In a context where 6 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are restricted in some form, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, Saudi Arabia is a stark example of what can happen when states act in impunity.

As a start, 36 UN Member states issued a statement at the UN HRC’s session this March calling for the immediate release of the women’s rights defenders and an investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

While they should be lauded for their actions, together with other stakeholders, member states to the UN need to up the ante: issue a full resolution at the next session of the Council holding Saudi Arabia accountable.