Visit to France by the President of the United Arab Emirates: Open letter to Emmanuel Macron


18 July 2022. On the occasion of the upcoming visit to France of the president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Ligue des droits de l’Homme, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) addressed an open letter to Emmanuel Macron, drawing attention to the situation of rights and freedoms in this country. Read the open letter below.

Mr President,

On the occasion of the upcoming visit to France of the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mr Mohammed ben Zayed Al Nahyane, the Ligue des droits de l’Homme, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) wish to draw your attention to the situation of rights and freedoms in this country, and urge you to express during your meeting with the UAE President your concern about the serious human rights violations underway, to demand their cessation and to refrain from contributing to them by showing a firm commitment to suspend all arms sales to the United Arab Emirates in compliance with France’s national and international commitments in this regard.

1. Human rights violations by the United Arab Emirates

a- Violations and repression of human rights defenders in the UAE

Since the outbreak of the Arab uprisings, the UAE authorities have intensified repression against critics and members of civil society. Human rights activists and defenders are routinely subjected to arrest, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, imprisonment, surveillance, torture and ill-treatment as documented in the FIDH report published in December 2021. This report highlights how the UAE, a strategic ally of Western powers, is in reality a particularly repressive dictatorship, where any dissenting voice risks imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture.

This is illustrated by the fate of human rights defenders such as Ahmed Mansoor, winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights, who was convicted for his criticism of the regime and is still in detention despite having served his sentence.

Ahmed Mansoor was described in a European Parliament resolution as "the last human rights defender in the UAE who was able to criticize the authorities publicly". He ran an opposition blog calling for reform and the defense of human rights in the UAE. He was first arrested in April 2011 and charged with violating the UAE’s defamation law. Sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and then pardoned and released, he was re-arrested in March 2017 and held in pre-trial detention for over a year, before being sentenced on 29 May 2018 to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of over one million dirhams. Since his sentence was confirmed in March 2018, he has reportedly been held in solitary confinement in a small cell without a bed or water. On 7 May 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and six other UN human rights experts condemned this situation, noting that these conditions may amount to torture. In October 2018, the European Parliament issued a resolution on his case in which it "strongly condemns the harassment, persecution and detention of Ahmed Mansoor as well as all other human rights defenders solely on account of their human rights activities and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, both online and offline. However, Ahmed Mansoor is still being held in solitary confinement in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi in deplorable conditions.

The "UAE 94" trial, involving 94 Emirati lawyers, academics, judges, teachers and student leaders who were peacefully campaigning for political reform, is also emblematic of this repression. At the end of the trial on 2 July 2013, many were sentenced to between 7 and 10 years’ imprisonment for founding, organising and running an organisation aimed at overthrowing the government, in violation o f Article 180 of the Penal Code.

The information gathered by FIDH, together with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), led to the conclusion that there were serious violations of international fair trial standards during this trial. In addition, audio recordings of some of these prisoners indicate that they were subjected to torture and cruel behaviour and treatment.

Women human rights defenders face additional obstacles as they are usually subjected to torture and violence, while being completely erased from the public sphere. Perhaps one of the most striking examples is the suffering that led to the death of prisoner Alia Abdel Nour in 2019, after a long battle with cancer inside the UAE prison. Among the women rights defenders who have served their sentences but remain in detention to date are Amina Al-Abdouli and Maryam Al-Balushi, whose sentences expired on 19 November 2020.

Finally, it should be noted that this repression also targets human rights defenders who are not UAE nationals but foreign citizens, who campaign for reforms in other countries. This is the case, for example, of Ahmed Etoum, a Jordanian citizen residing in the UAE, who was sentencedin February 2021, to 10 years in prison, on vague charges of "acts against a foreign state", following Facebook posts where he was peacefully criticising the Jordanian state. In 2019, Syrian rights defender AbdelRahman al-Nahhass, who has been a resident of the UAE since 2013, was arrested and arbitrarily detained for 13 months before being transferred to a secret detention facility and has had no contact with his family since. He remains in detention despite a communication sent in June 2021 to the UAE authorities by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and several other UN experts.

UN experts have repeatedly expressed their concern and called for the release of these defenders without any action being taken. The UAE must put an end to these unjust detentions, which blatantly violate international human rights standards.

Please demand, in your meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed, the immediate release of Ahmed Mansoor, Amina Al-Abdouli and Maryam Al-Balushi, Ahmed Etoum, AbdelRahman al-Nahhass and all the defenders convicted in the UAE 94 trial.

b- Serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen

While the UAE had announced the withdrawal of its forces from Yemen since 2019, its attacks on civilians in Yemen have continuedand its serious violations of international law during the war are well documented.

The UN Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen has highlighted the direct and indirect responsibilities of the Emirati authorities in some of the most serious violations that have occurred on the ground in the Yemeni conflict. Indeed, in a 2019 report on the human rights situation in Yemen since 2014, the EGE stated that it had "reasonable grounds to believe that the Governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (...) are responsible (...) for arbitrary deprivations of the right to life, liberty and security of the person.) arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment and recruitment o f children, as well as violations of fundamental freedoms and economic, social and cultural rights".

In particular, air strikes in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution may have been committed by members of the UAE Government, as highlighted by the GEE and Human Rights Watch. In addition, it is also possible that members of the UAE government have used starvation as a method of warfare. These acts are contrary to international humanitarian law and could constitute war crimes.

In addition, the GEE also refers to the commission of wrongful acts by the Government of Yemen and coalition governments, including the United Arab Emirates. These acts include murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, rape, outrages upon personal dignity, denial of the right to a fair trial, and the recruitment or use of children under the age of 15 to participate directly in hostilities. Such acts could be qualified as war crimes and thus engage the international responsibility of the Emirati authorities.
Please express your concerns about these issues in your meeting with Mr Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyane and demand an end to these violations.

2. Arms sales and accountability for violations in Yemen

"There are people who make a lot of money on war. We call them war profiteers". Our organisations can only agree with your statement on the Ukrainian conflict, but would like to relate it to the contract concluded last December with the United Arab Emirates for the sale of Rafale fighter jets and Caracal helicopters, worth 16 billion euros.

By continuing to conclude arms contracts with the United Arab Emirates, France is contributing to the perpetuation of the conflict in Yemen and the serious human rights violations committed in this context.

Since the beginning of the escalation of the conflict in Yemen in 2015, several NGOs have highlighted the presence of French equipment sold to the Saudi-led coalition, of which the United Arab Emirates is a member. This equipment was used against civilian populations in violation of national law, international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Under French law, the sale of military equipment is prohibited unless the executive has granted an exemption. This principle, enshrined in the Defense Code, is intended to ensure that ’Made In France’ arms do not fuel armed conflict, civil war, or serve to commit human rights violations. Yet, due to the opacity of the defense secrecy licensing process, French arms sales to the UAE have continued. Our December 2021 report highlights how nearly 1,000 export licenses, ’express authorisations’, were allegedly granted by France to the UAE between 2015 and 2020, circumventing the export ban.

In addition, France has ratified Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of the European Council as a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty. The latter enshrines the ban on the sale of equipment that could be used to commit serious human rights violations and the duty of vigilance of exporting states. At a time when the war in Yemen has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, and the number of civilian casualties continues to rise, France continues to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a member. In doing so, France appears to be failing to meet its national and international commitments in this regard and is thus complicit in serious human rights violations.

We therefore urge you to stop supplying weapons that could be used in the conflict in Yemen, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Thank you for your attention to our request.
Please accept, Mr President, the expression of our highest consideration.

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