Letter to High Representative Catherine Ashton on the UAE's Crackdown on Peaceful Activists
October 10, 2012

Baroness Catherine Ashton

High Representative of the European Union

for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Vice-President of the European Commission

242, rue de la Loi

B-1049 Brussels

 

October 10, 2012

 

Dear High Representative,

We are writing to draw your attention to disturbing developments in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where authorities have intensified their crackdown on peaceful political activists, showing a flagrant disregard for issues such as liberty, the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The deteriorating situation in the country warrants a strong reaction from the EU.  

We had hoped that the June 25th meeting of the EU-GCC Ministerial Meeting would provide the EU with an opportunity to speak out against thecontinuing harassment and persecution of human rights defenders and systematic violations of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in GCC countries. We were surprised that these concerns were omitted from your public remarks following that meeting although you did allude to what you described as “different perspectives” on certain issues. We would have expected a clearer statement particularly given that on the same day EU Foreign Ministers adopted a new EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, pledging that human rights, democracy, and the rule of law will be promoted “in all areas of the EU’s external actions without exception” and that the EU will “place human rights at the centre of its relations with all third countries, including strategic partners”.  

In light of this new framework, we urge the EU to end its silence over the ongoing and increasingly brutal crackdown on peaceful advocates of moderate reform in the United Arab Emirates.

Since July 15, the UAE’s State Security has arbitrarily detained 46 human rights defenders and civil society activists, bringing the total number of political detainees this year to 61.  Two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori, are amongst those detained. Al-Roken had provided legal assistance to 15 individuals detained without charge since March, including a group that authorities stripped of their citizenship. In 2011 he served as co-defence counsel for two of the ‘UAE 5’, who were convicted in November 2011 of “public insults” of the country’s top officials after allegedly posting statements on an internet forum critical of UAE government policy and leaders. The men were released after Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE president, commuted their sentences.  Al-Mansoori is a former president of the Jurists’ Association. The UAE authorities dismissed him from his position as a legal advisor to the government of Ras Al Khaimah in January 2010 after he gave a television interview in which he criticised restrictions on freedom of speech in the country.

Of the 61 men currently held in arbitrary detention in the UAE, the whereabouts of 59 are unknown. On September 6, six of the detainees were presented, one by one, before a judge at the Supreme Court as officials sought to extend their detention. They appeared disheveled, disoriented, and distressed. Two of the detainees appeared barely able to walk and had difficulty following the proceedings. One detainee told the judge that he was weak because he had been given sleeping pills. The judge refused to explain the legal basis for the men’s detention to their lawyer. Authorities have compounded their disregard for free expression and free association by attempting to deny detainees legal assistance. Lawyers employed by the only Emirati law firm currently offering legal assistance to the detainees have been harassed and intimidated, and in some cases deported.

The UAE authorities have claimed that its crackdown is a response to a foreign-inspired Islamist plot that aims to overthrow the government - the detainees all have ties to al-Islah, a peaceful Islamist group that has operated in the UAE since 1974 – but the evidence indicates that national security is the pretext for a crackdown on critics of the ruling elite. On July 16the UAE deported to Thailand Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq, an advocate for the rights of stateless residents known as Bidun and one of the ‘UAE 5’. He had been held in detention without charge or explanation since May 22 and was informed that he would be indefinitely detained if he did not agree to leave the UAE., Another member of the UAE 5, Ahme Mansoor, has been the subject of death threats and a well-organized smear campaign by a group with ties to UAE Stare Security. He has been assaulted twice in September, in what appear to be premeditated attacks

The UAE’s campaign to stifle democratic sentiment has not only been aimed at its citizenry. In March 2012 UAE authorities closed down the Dubai office of the National Democratic Institute and the Abu Dhabi office of German pro-democracy think-tank Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung. Over the summer, UAE authorities cancelled the residence permit of an American journalism professor in a UAE university who advocated greater press freedom in the UAE and the region.

With the adoption of the new human rights package the EU pledged to throw its “full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy, and human rights throughout the world”. We urge you to now turn this pledge into concrete action and together with the 27 EU Member States ensure a clear and principled EU policy vis a vis the UAE that addresses the ongoing serious human rights violations, including through demarches, public statements and initiatives at the Human Rights Council (HRC). It would be an act of hypocrisy to seek to strengthen strategic relations with the UAE while staying silent over their imprisonment of its citizens for having the courage to stand up for the values which the EU claims to champion.

 

Sincerely,

Lotte Leicht

EU Director

Human Rights Watch

 

CC:

EU Foreign Ministers

EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis

Ambassadors to the EU Political and Security Committee

Chair of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, Olof Skoog

Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Mr. Pierre Vimont

Deputy Secretary General for the European External Action Service (EEAS), Ms. Helga Schmid

Deputy Secretary General for the European External Action Service (EEAS), Mr. Maciej Popowski

Head of Cabinet to the High Representative, Mr. James Morrison

Advisor to the High Representative on North Africa, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Iraq, Mr. Pelayo Castro Zuzuarregui

Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Saudi Arabia, Amb. Adam Kulach

Managing Director for Middle East and Southern Neighbourhood, EEAS, Mr. Hugues Mingarelli

Director Middle East and Southern Neighbourhood, EEAS, Mr. Christian Berger

Head of Division for the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Iraq, EEAS, Ms. Patricia Llombart Cussac

Deputy Head of Division for the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Iraq, EEAS, Mr. Dominic Porter

Desk Officer for GCC, and bilateral Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, EEAS, Ms. Krokstade Anna Carin

Desk Officer for GCC and bilateral UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, EEAS, Mr. Giuseppe Busini

Director of Human Rights and Democracy Unit, EEAS, Ms. Veronique Arnault

Human Rights Desk Officer for Gulf States, Iraq and Iran, EEAS, Mr. Antonis Alexandris

Chair of the EU’s Working Party on Middle East and Gulf Countries (COMEM), Ms. Sophie Kisling

Chair of the EU’s Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM), Mr. Engelbert Theuermann

President of the European Parliament, Mr. Martin Schulz

Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for Democracy and Human Rights, Mr.

Edward McMillan-Scott

Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Elmar Brok

Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Ms. Barbara Lochbihler

Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, Ms. Angelika Niebler