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France’s Energy Plans Should Not Include Ignoring UAE Abuses

Emmanuel Macron should publicly raise UAE’s rights record during Mohamed bin Zayed’s visit

French President, Emmanuel Macron and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan meet in Fontainebleau, France on September 15, 2021. © 2021 Chesnot/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to welcome the President of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, to Paris July 18. That welcome should not include giving the crown prince a pass on the UAE’s atrocious human rights record.

Amid the backdrop of rising energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Macron's search for alternative supplies seems likely to reinforce France and the UAE’s already close ties. While the UAE has made considerable efforts to portray itself as rights-respecting, the reality is much bleaker.

Within the UAE, activists, lawyers, teachers, students, and those deemed critics are arrested, prosecuted, and detained, women and LGBT people face discrimination, and domestic workers are exposed to significant abuse under the kafala (visa-sponsorship) system. For years, the UAE has systematically crushed dissent. While the UAE government and state-controlled media trumpet recent legislative changes as a step forward, the new laws reinforce government repression by maintaining previous provisions and adding new ones that pose grave threats to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

The UAE has played a prominent role in conflicts abroad, where its own forces and those it backs have been responsible for significant abuses. In Yemen, the Saudi and UAE-led coalition's atrocity-ridden military operations have caused egregious civilian harm. In Libya, UAE forces killed civilians in unlawful air and drone strikes, while also supplying abusive local forces with weapons and ammunition. Yet, in December 2021, France agreed to the sale of 80 Rafale fighter jets to the UAE.

During this visit, Emmanuel Macron should stand up for rights that France claims to defend. He should call for the release of peaceful critics, including unjustly detained human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, the abolition of the kafala system, and for reform of the new penal code and cybercrime law to bring them in line with international standards. Macron should press for independent investigations into war crimes in Libya and Yemen, and compensation to civilian victims of the UAE’s abuses.

The alternative, sweeping grave violations under the carpet, will only embolden abusive UAE policies at home and abroad.

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