Blueprint Outlines Recommendations to Support Civil Society in the United Arab Emirates

Washington, D.C. – In advance of President Obama’s meetings this week with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Human Rights First today said that human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hinder joint efforts to counter violent extremism in the region. The organization’s new blueprint, “How to Counter Terrorism by Supporting Civil Society in the United Arab Emirates,” sheds light on the crackdown on civil society in the UAE and details recommendations for the Obama Administration to promote stability and security in the region.

“A lack of peaceful outlets for political grievances drives extremism and instability, but the Obama Administration continues to provide seemingly unconditional political and military support for GCC countries that have actually increased their repression against civil society in recent years,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of today’s blueprint. “To achieve real and lasting progress, the UAE needs a thriving civil society able to criticize the government, whose members are free from harassment or jail… A coherent, consistent U.S. government interagency approach to support freedoms of expression, association, and assembly will make a meaningful impact against violent extremism and better serve U.S. interests in the UAE.”

Today’s blueprint is a product of Dooley’s research trip to the UAE last month, where he met with human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, independent experts, and others.

Under the State Security Apparatus, run by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE is becoming stricter in its crackdown. A 2014 law allows for an extremely broad interpretation in defining terrorism, including using the law to target humanitarian and civil society organizations. Sheikh Mohammed is due to represent the UAE in this week’s meetings with President Obama.

The blueprint outlines the following recommendations for the U.S. government to support human rights and counter violent extremism in the region:

  • At the meeting of GCC leaders in Washington this week, President Obama should tell the representatives of the UAE government that human rights violations in their country run counter to joint efforts to fight extremism;
  • The Obama Administration should make clear that sustained American support for the UAE is dependent on progress made by the Emirati government to ease restrictions on freedom of expression and repression of civil society activists;
  • The Obama Administration should urge the UAE authorities to introduce an appeals process at the State Security Court, consistent with international legal standards;
  • Broaden the U.S. Embassy’s dialogues with civil society and human rights figures in the UAE to include discussion of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism cooperation and assistance;
  • The new U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Barbara Leaf should assist relevant agencies in implementing the September 2014 president memo directive that “Each [U.S. government] agency abroad shall incorporate inclusive outreach to civil society in their international engagement.” This includes its promotion and feature, in both Arabic and English, on the U.S. Embassy’s website and office; and
  • Urge the U.S. Ambassador to publicly state whether or not trials of political opponents and human rights activists observed by U.S. government officials meet international standards.

Human Rights First urges President Obama to make clear during his meetings with Gulf leaders this week that progress on the protection of human rights in the region is essential to advancing cooperation on joint security efforts. The organization will host a discussion in its Washington, D.C. office today at 10:00 am. The panel will bring together experts on human rights issues in the Gulf to discuss what President Obama should discuss with the GCC leaders. For more information, or to register for the event visit the event page.

Human Rights First will also host a media briefing teleconference about the GCC leaders summit today at 12:00 p.m. EDT.


Published on May 12, 2015


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