Parliamentary Seminar: The UK and the UAE: Linking Arms in Repression
Britain's trading relationship with the UAE came under close scrutiny in the Palace of Westminster yesterday, as a distinguished panel of speakers including an academic and filmmaker, raised issues of human rights violations and arms exports, at a Parliamentary seminar hosted by the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE and chaired by Alistair Carmichael MP.
This came at a particularly pertinent time as the British government find themselves under pressure to reconsider their relationship with the UAE following a string of arrests of British citizens for bizarre reasons. Earlier this week, it was revealed that British citizen, Jamie Harron was arrested and detained for allegedly touching a man's hip whilst in a bar in Dubai.
However, despite cases such as these and amid increasing human rights violations in the UAE documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, it was recently announced that bilateral trade between the UK-UAE is set to double to £25bn by 2020. Parliamentary Coordinator for Campaigns Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Ann Feltham, discussed the centrality of the UK weapons industry to this trade deal, and within the British economy more broadly in the context of Brexit.
She explained: "Between 2012 and 2016, UAE was the 10th biggest export for UK arms. There is no doubt that governments and the arms industry would like that figure to be more... Whenever arms sales are on the agenda, the UK government goes silent on human rights."
A BBC investigation recently revealed that British company BAE systems had negotiated trade deals to sell the UAE cyber surveillance technology which the Emirati regime has used to spy on its citizens. According to the Emirates Media and Studies Centre, in 2016 alone around 300 people were detained as a result of their social media use.
James Shires, an Oxford University DPhil candidate, whose research focuses on the emergence of cyber surveillance in the Middle East, scrutinised this revelation in more detail, contextualising it within a framework that explored the linkages between technology, cyber security, and human rights.
"The primary threats [of cyber surveillance technology] are to people's personal information... While nation states worry about espionage in cyber space, they also carry out espionage themselves," he explained. "In the UAE cyber crime laws and technology have been used to identify statements on social media that are deemed threats to the regime".
Filmmaker and artist, Manu Luksch, provided a case study of the UAE authorities using cyber surveillance against citizens to stifle political dissent. Earlier this year she interviewed Ahmed Mansoor, prominent human rights defender who was arrested and detained in March this year after his iPhone was transformed into a "mobile surveillance device".
In the video footage shown by Luksch, Mansoor commented on political activism in the UAE"Since the foundation of this country [the UAE], people have been asking for political representation... But if you are involved in political or human rights activities you have to be extremely cautious about what you carry or use. Especially in third world countries where the judiciary is not independent, there is no information protection and technology can be used against the citizen."
As Luksch explained, Mansoor was seen as 'the last man standing' of human rights defenders in the UAE. For many organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, he was the last person reporting on human rights violations in the UAE. Since his arrest, there is no knowing what undocumented violence and human rights abuses are being carried out by the UAE authorities.
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 Carmichael and Feltham explained, the legislation for such a mechanism is in place - but the political will to implement it is, sadly, not.
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