Seminar in UK Parliment - The UAE: Human Rights in Crisis.
Legal experts, journalists and human rights advocates have urged the UK and other EU governments to hold the UAE to account for human rights violations and associated breaches of International Law. Speaking at a conference held in Parliament, London, hosted by MP Andy Slaughter, organized by Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) and International Campaign for freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), experts discussed the human rights violations of the UAE which include torture, a crackdown on freedom expression and civil society, unjust detention, and forced disappearances.
These experts from various fields addressed the topic from different perspectives. Rose Garthwaite and Nawal Al Maghafi are two journalists who produced a BBC film detailing how, alongside arms, British companies such as BAE, are also supplying powerful weapons of mass surveillance to UAE States.
Al Maghafi described how this surveillance technology can be used by a corrupt regime to facilitate human rights violations. “This technology is powerful and it affects everyone, it makes it easier to crack down on people speaking about the government in their private communications, and it’s being sold to countries where you can be put in prison for speaking against the government. Once they’ve been sold we have no idea how it can be used, how it will develop.”
Garthwaite highlighted the failure of UK law in preventing the trade of this sort of technology. “After seeing our film last week, the Danish Government decided to tighten their own regulations on exports. The UK has still said nothing on this front,” and described how the advent of this technology has impacted on human rights, “in recent years across the Gulf there was a general silencing of human rights activists and lawyers, people felt more unsafe. My two-year investigation with the BBC revealed the usage of mass surveillance against these people”.
Drewery Dyke, a researcher for the human rights campaign group Amnesty International, outlined the many ways in which the UAE has not only violated the human rights of citizens, and breached international law, but also resisted international pressure to adhere to basic legislation designed to protect the fundamental human rights of individuals.
“Out of 180 recommendations made in the last UN Periodic Review, the UAE adopted only 100. Most of these 100 were very vague, the government rejected all specific recommendations, for example freedom of expression. The vaguely worded changes are cloaked in the terminology of national security which paves the way for unfair trials. There are reports of torture in pre-and post-trial detention, there’s no appeal process, deportation and deprivation of citizenship is used as a tool to repress people. The past 4 years has been a period of decay and decline, where the level, frequency and severity of human rights violations has sadly skyrocketed.”
Sue Willman is a Director at Deighton Pierce Glynn, a leading public interest and human rights law firm in the UK and a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales. Having represented many torture victims, she described how the UK has a responsibility to prosecute perpetrators of torture. “Torture is a crime in the UK even if it happens abroad. It’s the job of the Metropolitan Police to investigate claims of torture - and there is no doubt that torture is taking place in the jails of Abu Dhabi and Dubai - but they can’t do that unless they have the perpetrator on UK soil. Obviously, it’s the people in charge who are responsible for torture - so we need to inform the police when these Emirati ministers are in the UK shopping at Harrods or visiting the horse races.”
Willman’s client Ayham Al Endari, a Syrian national who has claimed asylum in the UK, is filing a complaint with the UN Special Procedures Branch, on the basis of his arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture in the UAE. “I moved to the UAE in 2008 and established a company. I worked very hard for 7 years, I never committed any crimes or broke any laws. I was unfairly imprisoned. They put me in solitary confinement, tortured me and humiliated me, and then in 2015 they deported me to Syria in the midst of the civil war, even though they knew they were sending me to my death. I lost everything, they destroyed my life and my future. Until this moment, I am still suffering from everything that happened to me. This is the situation in the UAE, where they have the tallest building in the world, malls, the luxury life”.
Andy Slaughter MP voiced his concerns about the blockade of Qatar and what this means for the UAE states, “this is raw power. What the UAE is willing to do to it’s own citizens… This is a regime out of control. I’m glad that this is getting more attention, I’m glad this is here in Parliament being debated now.”
The panel also included David Haigh, former Managing Director of Leeds United, who is a survivor of torture and arbitrary detention in Dubai - where he lived for 8 years.
Since his return to the UK, David has been undergoing treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; developed as a result of the torture he experienced. David joined the panel against medical advice.
He recounted some of his experiences during his 20 months detention in the jails of Dubai, “Being tortured and abused is something which never leaves you. The hardest thing is watching others, often younger than you, being kicked and tasered, hearing their screams. It hurt so much because I felt like I gave so much to Dubai as a country, it’s like being betrayed by a friend but worse. I’m trained as a lawyer and for the duration of my detention every particle of me saw injustice, every moment of every day. There is a weak legal system where justice can be bought.”
Carl Buckley, Solicitor, Chambers Director of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, and legal adviser to Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK, was chairing the discussion. His closing words reinforced the fact that the UK government’s complicity is allowing these human rights violations to happen. “The biggest fear of these states is freedom. They ignore international standards to oppress those that profess an opinion against the official line, and this is condoned by our [UK] Government. Our government, through their interactions with these states, are allowing this to flourish.”