In an increasingly interconnected world, the protection of human rights defenders is paramount to the promotion of democratic values and civil liberties. Recently, a coalition of human rights organizations addressed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, shedding light on the dire situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The letter articulates grave concerns about the relentless persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders within the country, with a spotlight on the case of Ahmed Mansoor, a renowned advocate who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. This article delves into the details of the situation and emphasizes the urgency of addressing these human rights violations.
Ahmed Mansoor’s Case
Ahmed Mansoor, a champion of human rights, has endured years of relentless harassment, threats, and intimidation at the hands of UAE authorities and their supporters. His story took a dark turn when he fell victim to a sophisticated spyware attack orchestrated by the Emirati government. On March 20, 2017, Mansoor was arrested solely based on his courageous human rights advocacy efforts. His arrest, trial, and subsequent conviction were unfounded, hinging entirely on his communication with international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Mansoor’s incarceration has been marked by severe and inhumane conditions. He has endured solitary confinement without access to basic reading materials, television, or radio. Denial of fundamental personal hygiene items and eyeglasses has further exacerbated his suffering. Astonishingly, he often had to endure the hardship of not having a proper bed or mattress in his cell, a violation of international human rights standards that prohibit torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
Deteriorating Civic Space in the UAE
The UAE’s descent into authoritarianism is reflected in the gradual erosion of civic space, with laws that criminalize peaceful expression, association, and assembly. Disturbingly, at least 62 Emirati nationals, including three human rights defenders, are arbitrarily detained, many of whom have completed their sentences. The UAE’s continued incarceration of these individuals, in defiance of completed sentences, underscores the government’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.
Significance of COP28 Hosting
Adding another layer of concern is the UAE’s role as the host of the 28th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28). Scheduled between November 30 and December 12, 2023, COP28 aims to drive ambitious and urgent climate action. However, for this conference to be genuinely successful, it is crucial that the UAE fosters an environment of open civic space.
The release of Ahmed Mansoor and other imprisoned human rights defenders is not only a moral imperative but also a practical necessity to ensure that COP28 participants can freely and meaningfully engage in discussions on combating climate change. Their release sends a powerful signal that civil society can effectively advocate for climate action, government accountability, and the representation of marginalized populations.
The Role of the U.S. Government
The letter to Secretary Blinken acknowledges the multifaceted nature of U.S.-UAE relations, encompassing strategic military and political ties. However, it underscores the historically inadequate attention given by the U.S. government to the UAE’s dismal human rights record.
As the world’s eyes turn toward the UAE in anticipation of COP28, the U.S. government holds a crucial opportunity to influence change. It can press the Emirati government to adhere to its human rights obligations, safeguard civil society, and release Ahmed Mansoor and other unlawfully imprisoned human rights defenders.
In conclusion, the call to action by the coalition of human rights organizations stands as a testament to the pressing need for human rights protection. It is incumbent upon the international community, led by the United States, to advocate for the release of Ahmed Mansoor and other human rights defenders. Only through concerted efforts and a steadfast commitment to justice can the UAE be urged to respect and uphold its international human rights obligations, ultimately ensuring that freedom of expression remains a cornerstone of society.