The Natural History Museum (NHM) has resisted calls to cancel an event booking made by the Saudi embassy after details of the private event were revealed online.
The Saudi ambassador, Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud, was expected to host the event in celebration of Saudi Arabia’s national day on the evening of 11 October.
Details were initially made public by Guardian columnist Owen Jones, and an invitation to the event, with the invitee’s name redacted, was tweeted by London-based human rights group Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
A statement from the NHM said that hosting the event was not an endorsement, and that such events are important in allowing it to continue its activities.
The statement reads: “The NHM was booked by the Saudi embassy over two months ago as a venue for an external event to celebrate Saudi Arabia Day. No Museum staff are attending as guests or speaking at the event.
“Enabling commercial activities to take place outside of public opening hours in our iconic spaces brings the Museum an important source of external funding, which allows us to maintain our position as a world class scientific research centre and visitor attraction.
“We hold a wide variety of commercial events and it is made clear to any host that doing so is not an endorsement of their product, service or views.”
The museum was criticised for accepting the booking in light of Saudi Arabia’s controversial foreign policy, in particular the disappearance of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi – whose whereabouts remain unknown after he entered the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul more than a week ago – and Saudi involvement in the three-year conflict in Yemen.
According to the UN Human Rights Council the single largest cause of child and civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict has been airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition. A recent report by a UN-appointed group of experts stated there were “reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the government of Yemen and the coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes” – although the report was rejected by the coalition.
The controversy follows the Design Museum’s removal of more than 40 works of art from its Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 in August, after nearly 40 artists signed a letter calling the museum “hypocritical” for hosting a commercial event run by the defence company Leonardo.