Friday's massacre in Houla left the world in a state of shock. The brutality with which human beings can treat each other has left many of us angry, frustrated and disillusioned. The situation in Syria is horrifying and it must serve as a stark warning to us all.
When opposition voices begin to emerge and a clear movement towards democracy is crystalising, our role as the international community is to foster dialogue between those voices and the regime. We must encourage our fellow nation-states to engage with their citizens and explore developments in their partnership as human beings to enshrine future stability of the national unity.
At a fundamental level, we must stand as one when citizens are being treated inhumanely, especially when a governing power abuses the constitution. The constitution of a state serves as a contract between governing authority and citizen. If a state repeatedly breaks this contract with impunity, surely it is the role of the international community to stand up and demand that the basic constitutional rights of citizens are met.
Clearly, the reference point here is the UAE. Since my last piece about the spread of arbitrary arrests, those incarcerated remain so and more people have also been detained. The limited exposure that the abuses in the UAE have gained has focused on authorities suppressing an Islamist movement; this analysis is ill advised as it covers up the widespread abuses taking place by the authorities.
On 22 May, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was rearrested in a covert manner after his father had been called to the Immigration Department to complete paperwork. Ahmed was part of the secular UAE 5 group that caught the headlines last year following their arrest & prosecution after calling for democratic reforms. Since his release Ahmed has closed his Twitter account and been quiet in his human rights activism.
Ahmed is now facing deportation to the Comoros Islands. This may sound a little odd given that Ahmed is a lifelong resident and citizen of the UAE, but the authorities have an agreement with the Comoros that their stateless citizens can gain citizenship there after a 2009 agreement where the UAE government reportedly paid the Islands $200 million.
Ahmed has been rearrested for his past human rights activities. It is a clear sign from the authorities that anyone questioning the status quo will be treated ruthlessly.
Furthermore, details have emerged about the treatment of the other fifteen individuals being detained by the state. A Ministry of Interior source has informed us that those held have been subject to periodic beatings as the authorities seek to gain forced confessions of guilt. Given the fact that those held have been denied access to family visits and legal counsel, with their official location also withheld, fears are growing about their ongoing welfare.
Clearly, the events taking place in the UAE are indicative of a state that is committed to protecting their absolutist method of authority, stopping at nothing to ensure those who question the status quo are removed. The rearrest of Ahmed Abdul Khaleq is the surest sign yet that the authorities are not simply aggressively attacking a burgeoning Islamist movement but are systematically and ruthlessly dealing with the widespread calls for democratic reform from a diverse range of ideological standpoints.
Now, here is the role we can play as the UK.
With one million of our tourists visiting the UAE each year, 100,000 of our citizens living there and bilateral trade due to reach £12.5 billion by 2015 we clearly have a significant relationship with the Emirates. Indeed, Dubai relies heavily on the expatriate workforce that is resident there.
William Hague, Alistair Burt and the wider Foreign & Commonwealth Office must impress upon our UAE counterparts that they must stick by the constitutional agreement they have with their citizens. If they arrest individuals for activism, they must charge them formally, allow legal & familial visitation and provide them with a fair trial. We must insist on this as a significant trading partner of the UAE.
As citizens, it is our duty to hold our politicians to account and we must demand that they adhere to the principle of fundamental human rights for all. The Foreign Office website states that we support human rights in the UAE, yet hitherto we have remained silent on the abuses taking place there.
Now is the time to stand up and be counted. In the shadow of the massacre in Houla, we must realise that our role in protecting other human beings must be preemptive not reactive. The UAE is at a critical juncture where the national unity may be preserved and their citizens gain the movement towards democracy that they so desire.
This window is a small one, however, and we must seize our opportunity to foster dialogue between the authorities there and the citizens of the UAE. Indeed, it is the only way our precious bilateral trade links will be preserved.
It is impossible to say what could have happened in Syria if attempts had been made to foster dialogue, rather than a violent uprising, but one thing is clear. If we do not seize our opportunity to foster such discussions in the UAE, then the future looks grim for all given that the authorities continue to detain all those who call for democratic reform.
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