The upcoming COP28 conference, a global United Nations climate event, has stirred controversy as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) extends an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This move has drawn criticism due to the UAE’s questionable human rights record and the Syrian government’s involvement in widespread atrocities. As civil society and human rights defenders are excluded from the conference, concerns mount over the UAE’s priorities and its commitment to addressing core climate issues.
UAE’s Indifferent Stance on Human Rights:
Despite its role as the host country for COP28, the UAE has shown little leadership when it comes to critical matters such as phasing out fossil fuels and halting oil and gas expansion. This lack of commitment raises eyebrows as the UAE now appears willing to help Bashar al-Assad improve his public image, despite his involvement in heinous crimes against his own people. Surprisingly, the UAE has remained silent on the atrocities committed under Assad’s rule, despite hosting him on multiple occasions since 2022.
Crimes Against Humanity by the Syrian Government:
The Syrian government’s track record of grave human rights violations and displacement of millions cannot be overlooked. The diversion of humanitarian aid away from populations opposing Assad’s rule further exacerbates the dire situation. Recent reports revealed that Syrian government forces dropped banned cluster munitions on internally displaced camps in northwest Syria as recently as November 2022. Despite these alarming incidents, Arab countries, led by the UAE, have rushed to normalize ties with Assad’s government without demanding accountability for the severe abuses committed over the past 12 years. The Arab League’s readmission of Syria without requiring respect for human rights has raised serious concerns.
Repression of Civil Society in the UAE:
While Bashar al-Assad is set to be welcomed at COP28, the prospects for independent members of Emirati civil society to participate meaningfully remain uncertain. The UAE’s history of severe repression and the complete closure of civic space cast doubt on the inclusivity of the conference. Since 2011, the UAE has actively curtailed freedom of expression and association, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of numerous government critics and activists. Notably, prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has been among those targeted for advocating for human rights.
Conflict of Interest: Fossil Fuel Expansion and COP28 Presidency:
Adding to the concerns surrounding the UAE’s approach to COP28, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), has been appointed as the president of the conference. This appointment raises eyebrows due to ADNOC’s status as the UAE government’s primary fossil fuel company. Al Jaber will maintain his role at ADNOC while serving as COP president, despite the recent announcement of ADNOC’s expansion in all aspects of its fossil fuel operations.
Demand for Accountability and Justice:
The decision to welcome Bashar al-Assad at a conference focused on climate action, without any effort to ensure accountability for the widespread abuses committed under his rule, is deeply troubling. Governments attending COP28 should take a stand and ensure that serious crimes committed by the Syrian government are thoroughly investigated and those responsible are held accountable. Upholding human rights principles and addressing the climate crisis should go hand in hand, and the UAE’s stance threatens to undermine the integrity of the conference.
As the UAE extends an invitation to Bashar al-Assad, the country’s own human rights record comes under scrutiny. The lack of leadership on climate issues, the normalization of ties with the Syrian government, and the repression of civil society within the UAE raise serious concerns about the priorities of COP28. It is crucial for governments attending the conference to prioritize accountability and justice, ensuring that crimes against humanity committed under Assad’s rule are not ignored or swept under the rug. The success of COP28 hinges on a commitment to human rights and climate action.