(Beirut) – Pope Francis should use his upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates to press the government to address the serious human rights violations by its forces in Yemen and to end its repression of critics at home, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the pope. The pope is to attend the International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity in the United Arab Emirates on February 4, 2019. 

Pope Francis will meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, in the UAE on February 4, 2019. 

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The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has indiscriminately bombed homes, markets, and schools, impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid, and used widely banned cluster munitions. Domestically, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. And the many thousands of low-paid migrant workers in the country remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. 

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But the UAE has shown how sensitive it is to its image on the global stage, and Pope Francis should use his visit to press UAE leaders to meet their human rights obligations at home and abroad.”