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UAE: value of pledge to allow climate activists free speech at COP28 'remains to be seen'

‘COP28 will not bring about the ambitious action required to avert a climate catastrophe if the host state’s laws restrict freedom of expression’ - Heba Morayef

Responding to a pledge this week by the Emirati hosts of the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai later this year to make “space available for climate activists to assemble peacefully and make their voices heard”, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said: 

“The fact that the hosts of this crucial climate meeting felt the need to highlight that some form of free assembly and expression will be allowed during COP28 serves only to highlight the normally restrictive human rights environment in the United Arab Emirates and the severe limits it places on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“Rather than make an exception related to this two-week meeting, the UAE should permanently do away with these restrictions.

“It remains unclear exactly what the UAE authorities will allow, and whether a public demonstration by attendees, as has traditionally occurred in the middle weekend of COP meetings in the host city, can take place.

“At the previous COP meeting in Egypt last year the space given over to protest was wholly inadequate, and the meeting was preceded by a crackdown and arrests by security forces.

“It remains to be seen whether the UAE’s promise is anything other than a hollow commitment. 

“The agreement between the UAE and the UN establishing the legal framework for organising and hosting COP28 should be made public immediately.

“Draconian national laws will apply outside the UN venue, heightening concerns for the safety of anyone wishing to express views about climate change, the meeting or the UAE government.

“COP28 will not bring about the ambitious action required to avert a climate catastrophe if the host state’s laws restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and throttle civil society.”

Dismal human rights record 

The United Arab Emirates has a dismal human rights record, with peaceful dissent severely restricted or criminalised, and public assemblies requiring Government approval. Dozens of critics of the Government are in jail. It’s more than a decade since the Emirati authorities sentenced 60 members of the country’s civil society to lengthy prison terms in a mass trial. None of those jailed has been released, even though 55 have completed their sentences.

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