UAE’s human rights record comes under scrutiny in House of Commons
At a parliamentary seminar yesterday evening, organised by the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, panelists urged the British government to do more to address the mounting cases of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates.
With Brexit on the horizon, the UK’s relationship with the Gulf state has grown in importance; it was recently announced that bilateral trade between the two countries is set to double to £25bn by 2020.
Yet, during this period, the Emirati authorities have become increasingly repressive – so much so that the UAE now has one of the highest rates of political prisoners per capita anywhere in the world.
Speaking at yesterday’s event, award-winning journalist Bill Law raised the cases of academic, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith; journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar and award-winning human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor. All of whom are currently being detained in the Emirates on speech charges. Law said they provided an apt illustration of the UAE’s clampdown on academia, a free press, and dissident voices in society.
Describing these ‘prisoners of conscience’ as his “heroes” for “raising the issue of human rights in one of the most repressive countries on earth”, the Middle East correspondent went on to slam Western governments and media outlets for failing to sufficiently condemn the above cases.
Dr. David Wearing, another panellist at last night’s session, took this criticism further. The Gulf specialist, and author of upcoming book: ‘Anglo Arabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to the UK’, argued that the British government was “complicit” in human rights abuses in the UAE due to its long relationship with the Gulf state, which started in the days of empire and continues today with oil, trade and investment, and arms deals.
Wearing said that, in reality, it is the UK that calls the shots in its relationship with the UAE – not the other way around, as is sometimes portrayed in mainstream narratives. Therefore, if the British government really wanted to, they could put an end to human rights abuses in the country. It suits the interests of the British state, however, to have an authoritarian regime in the Emirates, he said.
In recent years, the UAE’s human rights record has come in for heavy criticism from UN working bodies, who have noted a spike in cases of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearances. Drewery Dyke, a human rights researcher formerly of Amnesty International, also on yesterday’s panel, said that the UAE have ignored numerous requests and recommendations from special UN Special Rapporteurs aimed at improving the situation in the country. He said that “time and time again”, the UAE have failed to engage seriously with UN mechanisms and processes.
It is imperative that the British government do more to hold the Emirati authorities to account for their systematic human rights violations. A crucial component to this is to would be to make sure that future trade deals are conditional on adherence to international human rights legislation. However, as David Wearing explained, the political will to implement this is sadly lacking. It is, therefore, up to ordinary people across the country to apply the necessary pressure from below to make this happen.