EU Foreign Ministers Should Urge UAE Rights Progress Ahead of COP28

Last month, the European Council proclaimed itself as “the global leader in climate action”. The November 13 EU Foreign Ministers meeting with COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the global climate conference is set to begin later this month, is the first real test of that claim.

In a letter to EU foreign ministers ahead of their meeting with Al-Jaber, Human Rights Watch urged them to call on the UAE to end its repression of independent civil society, release imprisoned human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor, and ensure governments at COP28 commit to a full, equitable, and rights-respecting phase out of all fossil fuels.

Global climate leadership requires a clear commitment to human rights within climate diplomacy. We cannot secure the robust climate policies the world needs without the meaningful participation of civil society.

For over a decade, the UAE has targeted rights activists leading to the complete closure of civic space, severe restrictions on freedom of expression online and offline, and the criminalization of peaceful dissent.

The UAE is also one of the world’s largest oil producers. The government is using COP28 to burnish its image while continuing its fossil fuel expansion, undermining global efforts to tackle the climate crisis and protect rights.

Ahmed Mansoor’s case is emblematic of the UAE’s systematic repression of human rights. Mansoor, the country’s most prominent rights defender, has been arbitrarily imprisoned in isolation since his arrest in March 2017. At least 60 other Emirati rights defenders, activists, and political dissidents have been unjustly detained since 2012.

In August, the United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, said that “there will be space available for climate activists to assemble peacefully and make their voices heard” at COP28. But it is unclear how activists will be able to safely and meaningfully protest in the UAE, where demonstrations are effectively illegal.

COP28’s success depends on upholding human rights before, during, and after the conference. EU foreign ministers should call on the UAE to live up to its rights obligations by supporting a fossil fuel phaseout, releasing all imprisoned rights defenders, and ensuring meaningful participation of independent voices at COP28.

Conclusion: A Call for Holistic Progress

In the run-up to COP28, the EU has the opportunity to underscore its commitment to a holistic approach that integrates environmental sustainability with human rights. The call for progress in the UAE is not merely a diplomatic formality but a resonant declaration that a sustainable future is one that upholds the dignity and rights of every individual. As EU foreign ministers deliberate, the world watches with the hope that their advocacy will contribute to a more just and sustainable global landscape.

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