More than 200 civil society groups have jointly addressed the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host country of this year’s COP28 U.N. climate summit, and all participating governments, expressing a series of concerns related to the Gulf nation’s human rights record. The UAE, a prominent Gulf trading and tourism hub, a significant oil producer, and a key U.S. ally, has been criticized for its limitations on political parties and its limited tolerance for dissent. State and local media in the UAE are tightly controlled, and freedom of speech is restricted.
In response, the UAE has rejected these allegations, emphasizing its commitment to constructive dialogue and asserting that all COP28 attendees will have the opportunity to “assemble peacefully to have their voices heard in designated areas.” The UAE’s statement highlights its claim as one of the most tolerant and diverse nations, citing constitutional protection against discrimination.
Amnesty International and other regional and global groups have outlined seven demands in their letter, including the repeal of laws that criminalize LGBTQ individuals, the release of “prisoners of conscience” held beyond their sentences, reparations for migrant workers involved in building COP facilities, and a plea to refrain from spying on summit delegates. However, the COP28 conference hosts have yet to respond to these demands.
The upcoming climate summit, organized by the U.N., is scheduled to take place from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai and will be headed by Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber. Al-Jaber’s selection has sparked controversy due to the UAE’s status as an OPEC member and a major oil exporter. While the UAE has pledged to allow peaceful protests during the summit, some NGOs are expressing concerns about attending, fearing restrictions on their freedoms or even arrest, while others are advocating for a boycott.
Sunjeev Bery, the executive director of the climate and human rights campaign organization Freedom Forward, who coordinated the letter with 218 signatories, raised questions about holding global climate negotiations in a country where peaceful critics and activists face imprisonment. Bery expressed concern that fossil fuel lobbyists and oil executives could freely participate in the summit, while climate and human rights activists would worry about surveillance and potential incarceration for speaking out.
The UAE has consistently denied allegations of arbitrary detentions, asserting that they are false and unsubstantiated. Recent global summits in the Middle East have scrutinized host nations’ rights records, using such events as a platform to pressure countries to improve their human rights standards. The New York Times reported concerns among officials about the UAE’s image as the host of COP28, citing a leaked recording of a meeting.