AOHR addresses the growing concerns about the human rights situation in the UAE
In a meeting organised by Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) in the House of Commons, expert panellists came together to address the growing concerns about the human rights situation in the UAE. The meeting, held on Thursday December 14, 2017, focused on the mistreatment of prisoners in UAE prisons.
Hosted by Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, the meeting drew attention to the case of Emirati detainee Alia Abdulnoor, who is suffering from cancer and is denied adequate medical treatment. Alia has complained of being tortured whilst in detention, amongst other violations.
Opening the meeting, the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington noted that the British government had a unique opportunity to raise concerns about human rights given its close relationship with the UAE. He warned, however, that in light of Brexit and the need to secure new international trade deals, the focus of the government on human rights “is going to be neglected”.
AOHR UK Director, Mohammed Jamil, said that it was after the Arab Spring that security services in the UAE stepped up their campaign of arrests “against all those who espouse the thought of reform and freedom,” asserting that all detainees were “subjected to enforced disappearances and brutal torture for many months.” Jamil listed the most prominent violations practised against detainees, including solitary confinement, physical inspection of naked prisoners and not providing treatment for serious medical cases such as that of Alia Abdulnoor.
Commenting on the case of Ms Abdulnoor, international human rights lawyer Carl Buckley said that her case had now been brought to the attention of the UN and that a petition of complaint had been filed. Buckley remarked, however, that the UAE will not confront their own record of torture, not only of UAE citizens, but of international residents, including British residents. “It is no longer enough to state that the UK is engaging in closed-door diplomacy”, Buckley said as he called for a change of tactics from the UK government, raising the need for public condemnation and demands for change from the UK.
Alongside Buckley on the panel, were lawyers Rhys Davis and Aiden Ellis. Ellis drew attention to the need for Alia Abdulnoor’s treatment for cancer to be addressed and said that the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention have expressed concern that there is a pattern of such cases in the UAE. Ellis believes that Ms Abdulnoor’s case fits this pattern of ill-treatment of unwell detainees and hopes that the working group will recommend her release.
Rhys Davis reflected on the privilege of having the meeting in the British parliament, a place “where human rights have historically been protected”. Speaking on the general human rights situation in the UAE, Davis raised the importance of this to the UK, reflecting on the hundreds of thousands of British expats who live, work and travel in the UAE. With British citizens being caught up in legal issues in the UAE and subjected to the same human rights violations that nationals face, it is imperative that political pressure is applied by the UK government, Davies said, arguing that “bold steps” needed to be taken.
It was not just the case of British citizens and Alia that were raised in the meeting. Bill Law, journalist and founder of the thegulfmatters.com reminded the audience that two prominent activists were still in prison – Nasser bin Ghaith and former human rights laureate Ahmed Mansoor. Nasser bin Ghaith had once predicted a police state coming to the UAE, and now, Law said, that same police state had “swallowed him up”. Law argued that the deafening silence of the UK Foreign Office makes a mockery of the rights the UK claims is at the heart of democracy. He stressed on the importance of taking action, saying that Mansoor and bin Ghaith had previously been released during their trial as part of the case known as “UAE 5”, following international pressure and condemnation.
Mohammed Jamil claimed that despite documented violations, “an official investigation has yet to be opened to improve the conditions of the detainees.” With MP Tom Brake’s commitment to raising the case of Alia Abdulnoor with the UK foreign secretary and the British government, there is hope that international condemnation will help secure her release and indeed, address the detention conditions of all prisoners. But with his warnings of the UK’s neglect of human rights in favour of trade deals, there will need to be continued pressure on the government to raise these issues.
As human rights violations continue unabated in the prisons of the UAE, a video message from Alia’s mother said that “she was facing death at every moment” – perhaps the clearest call from the meeting for the need for increased international pressure on the UAE for real reform.