Activists fear repression as COP28 spotlights UAE’s rights record – La Prensa Latina Media

By Isaac J. Martin

Cairo, Nov 24 (EFE).- World leaders, scientists, and activists are set to gather at the United Nations climate conference in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) next week, with rights defenders planning to shine a spotlight on human rights and climate justice.

However, concerns are mounting about restrictions in the oil-rich monarchy, notorious for suppressing dissent with its strict criminal justice system.

According to nonprofits, the Arab country has a dismal human rights record, and the UN climate conference has put the spotlight on its history of repression, with activists urging the authorities to protect civic space and facilitate the active participation of observers during the event.

“Mere assurances are not enough to allay the very real fears of activists planning to travel to Dubai,” Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s Director of Climate, Economic and Social Justice, and Corporate Accountability Program, told EFE.

The country’s law restricts and severely punishes free speech and peaceful assembly, besides penalizing criticism of the political system, the government, and those in power.

There are concerns about electronic surveillance, a practice in the country.

“UAE authorities have obliterated its civil society over the last decade. They have locked up human rights activists, independent organizations, and political dissidents, enacted repressive laws, and used the criminal justice system to eliminate any dissent,” Richard Pearshouse, the director of the environment and human rights division at Human Rights Watch, told EFE.

The country has promised that there will be space available for climate activists to “gather peacefully and make their voices heard” in the so-called Green Zone, outside the Blue Zone, where negotiations happen.

However, as happened last year at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, activists plan to be confined to the “Blue Zone” of the COP site, which is managed by the UN rather than UAE authorities for fear of being repressed under Emirati jurisdiction in the Green Zone.

“There is a terrifying disconnect between vague promises that ‘everything’s going to be just fine’ and the fact that dozens of human rights defenders, civil society activists, and political dissidents are in detention,” Pearshouse said.

He said the UN signed an agreement with the UAE authorities about hosting the conference, which was not made public.

Schaaf recalled that global rights groups like Amnesty International cannot enter the country for research activities, and no UN special rapporteur has been able to visit the emirates since 2014.

Schaaf said the climate crisis “is a human rights crisis, and fossil fuel phase-out, climate adaptation, and funding for loss and damage are human rights imperatives.”

She emphasized that policy debate calls for the participation of those most affected by climate change and thorough assessments of how climate policy can address entrenched discrimination.

“Such debate can only occur in an open and inclusive setting, where the rights to free assembly, association, and expression are respected, protected, and fulfilled.”

She pointed out that the UAE, which has not ratified core human rights treaties, falls short of meeting the requirements “as it severely restricts these rights.”

If Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdelfatah was iconic at the last COP27, for this year, it would undoubtedly be Ahmed Mansoor.

Mansoor, a winner of the prestigious Martin Ennals award in 2015, was arrested on Mar. 20, 2017, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leaders.”

He faced the brunt for his peaceful pro-rights activism, including through social networks.

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