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COP28 participants urged to challenge UAE on human rights

London, Sept 13 (AFP) Sep 13, 2023
More than 200 rights groups Wednesday urged participants at this year's COP28 climate talks in Dubai to challenge the United Arab Emirates over its human rights record.

An open letter warned of potential "state surveillance" at the November-December meetings, which will gather thousands of government officials, activists, lobbyists and media.

It called on governments taking part to demand action on migrant workers, the LGBTQ+ community and women's rights, and to release jailed political dissidents.

The letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, also urged delegates to shun Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, who was found to have been "abusive" towards his ex-wife in a UK divorce case.

A UAE official said the Gulf monarchy "rejects these allegations, which are not based on accurate information.

"The right to freedom from discrimination is protected by the UAE's constitution," the official said in a statement sent to AFP.

"COP28 will take an inclusive approach that engages all stakeholders... this inclusiveness extends to every visitor to COP28 who will be able to assemble peacefully to have their voices heard in designated areas."

The oil-rich monarchy's hosting of COP28, which will seek solutions to the climate crisis, has been criticised by environmentalists.

Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE's climate envoy and head of the state oil giant ADNOC, has been named as COP28 president.

"We will not allow for COP28 and the urgent and ambitious climate commitments needed from this process to be derailed or watered down by greenwashing efforts," the letter said.

- Targeted by spyware -

In 2021, a UK court found that Sheikh Mohammed's team used spyware to hack the phone of his ex-wife and her legal team.

In 2016, Canada-based Citizen Lab said Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor was also targeted by malicious software.

Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years' jail in 2018 after being convicted of spreading false information on social media and harming the UAE's reputation.

Rights groups have accused the UAE of detaining at least 62 Emiratis for political reasons.

In December 2019, the UAE denied reports that popular app ToTok, which offers free calls and messaging, was being employed by intelligence services to spy on users.

"The UAE must end all unlawful state surveillance (and) refrain from conducting surveillance related to COP28 and its attendees," the rights groups' letter said.

In March 2022, Sheikh Mohammed was ordered to pay a divorce settlement of pound550 million ($730 million) to his ex-wife Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, after a UK court found "exorbitant" levels of abusive behaviour.

A British court ruling made public in March 2020 said the UAE prime minister orchestrated the abduction of his daughter Sheikha Shamsa from the UK city of Cambridge in August 2000, and twice seized her sister Latifa and returned her to Dubai.

The document also demanded "reparations" for any immigrant workers who built the COP28 site, Expo City, "under conditions of abuse and forced labour", as was alleged by labour rights group Equidem.


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