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Procedure : 2012/2842(RSP)
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PV 26/10/2012 - 4.1
CRE 26/10/2012 - 4.1

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Verbatim report of proceedings
Friday, 26 October 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

4.1. Human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates
Video of the speeches

  President. − The next item is the debate on seven motions for resolutions on the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates.


  Ana Gomes, author. Mr President, the increasing crackdown on human rights and civil liberties by the Government of the United Arab Emirates is worrying. The current policy of detention, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and political activists has swept up prominent human rights lawyers, judges, law professors, bloggers, student leaders, religious conservatives and liberals alike.

Particularly worrying is the fact that many of the detained are kept incommunicado, denied legal assistance and allegedly subjected to torture. In fact the only information we seem to have about the detainees is provided by the UAE Human Rights Committee, which is a government organisation and does not supply independent or credible information. Even when alleged national security concerns are at stake, the UAE authorities need to ensure that detainees deemed to have broken the law are charged with a crime, provided with legal assistance of their choosing and brought before a judge in a fair trial.

We also call on the UAE authorities to enforce freedom of speech and press freedom, which are granted under the Constitution in the UAE, since no real enforcement of such freedoms can take place when the harassment of those who call for greater political participation and inclusive institutions is not independently investigated, and when the penal code allows for the prosecution of those who today criticise the government.

Another matter of great concern, which we wish was in the resolution which we are to adopt, is the situation of migrant workers who are badly discriminated against and not protected in the UAE.


  Nikolaos Salavrakos, author. − (EL) Mr President, the internal situation in the United Arab Emirates is described as authoritarian, with the suppression of civil society and persecution and imprisonment of dissidents; and I am afraid this internal political situation will remain as it is for a long time to come, because the government of the UAE does not lend a sympathetic ear – in other words, it does not pay attention to the views of the international community or to what is required by UN decisions and human rights.

The situation in the UAE is, of course, in line with the situation in the wider Middle East, where I fear the Arab Spring has turned into a Christian Winter for those who live there. The last few years have indeed been disastrous for the millions of beleaguered Christians in the region.

We are seeing the same situation in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, and we are facing a serious problem with the Christians in that region, and must take action to solve it.


  Nirj Deva (ECR), Blue-card question to Ana Gomes. – Normally I have enormous respect for Ana Gomes’ research but on this one she has got it hopelessly wrong. Is she aware that the people who have been arrested and jailed are the very people who have been asking for Christian churches to be shut, for non-Christian and non-Muslim faiths not to be practised in the United Arab Emirates, and for women to have to wear the burka and not to work, drive, wear uniform or take part in public life? These are the people, the 62 people, who have been arrested and are being tried. Is Ms Gomes not aware of what they have been saying?


  Ana Gomes, Blue-card answer to Nirj Deva. Yes, that is exactly the reason why the Government of the UAE should not fear disclosure of information and freedom of speech and of the press. If these allegations that you mention are correct there should be no reason to prevent these basic freedoms. In the same way I would like to draw attention to the exploitation of migrant workers, which is a really serious problem, and I would call for cooperation of the authorities with the ILO.


  Bernd Posselt, author. (DE) Mr President, it is 30 years since I first visited the Gulf States and the United Arab Emirates, and this region must have come further in 30 years than 21st-century England since Richard the Lionheart. It is my belief, therefore, that ideological responses will not get us very far. We must behave with fairness towards this region.

It is the case that the Gulf States, and the United Arab Emirates in particular, have probably the fairest governments in the region. However, we must naturally criticise all instances of human rights violations. That is why we are calling for the release of political prisoners; that is why we are calling, for example, for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung to be able to re-open its external office. We are voicing criticism, but we cannot make urgent and unfair political demands of a generalised nature. That is why we are making quite that we want to reserve this urgency for core human rights and that we are offering the United Arab Emirates a fair human rights partnership. We are not opposed to this region. We are the fair partners of this region. We are critical, but we recognise what a long way the UAE has come and has still to go.


  Charles Tannock, author. Mr President, the UAE is a relatively open and diverse society with more than 100 000 British citizens residing there. This openness to outside influences continues to result in a better understanding among the governing élite of the importance of human rights. The EU and the UAE have an important economic and security partnership as well. The UAE’s human rights indicators are generally a lot better than most other Arab States. Women, for instance, occupy senior positions throughout the government, business and civil society, including three lady ambassadors. Migrant labourers benefit from recent legislative changes to protect their rights and welfare. The UAE has also taken important steps to crack down on human trafficking.

This is not to gloss over concerns about the arrest of 62 Emiratis, but sadly most of these detainees appear to be Islamist hardliners who would like to reverse all the progress made in that country by closing down the churches. Mr Salavrakos has left, but he got it completely wrong: the people in prison want to close down the churches and persecute Christians, and they want to repress women. Those in this House who think that religious fundamentalism is the answer to improving human rights in the Gulf are sadly mistaken.

Whilst the ECR Group accepts that there are serious concerns about some aspects of human rights in the UAE, the situation is far worse in some neighbouring countries. Indeed, Iran, which regularly executes juveniles and gay people, is perhaps the most shocking. This resolution today is therefore unnecessary because it distracts attention from the real issue in the Gulf region: Iran’s desperate efforts to acquire nuclear arms, and its gross violations of human rights.

Of course the UAE Government must fully investigate the allegations against the 62 detainees. If there is no good evidence against them, these individuals should be released. If, on the other hand, there is clear evidence of a crime, the government should charge them and try them without delay in accordance with the law. But the idea that the UAE is a serious human rights violator is completely absurd.


  Jaromír Kohlíček, author. (CS) Mr President, in view of the fact that monarchies in the Arab world have never been a model of democracy and this is clearly the case in the United Arab Emirates, I am surprised. My surprise is due to the fact that this is the first time that we have actually taken notice of the medieval conditions under which they live, kept strictly apart from foreign workers.

We have at last noticed the medieval relationships that prevail in political life in those countries. I do not know where Mr Tannock got his data. My fellow Members have found the courage to speak out timidly against these abuses, but that is not enough. There is a Latin saying: pecunia non olet or do not look a gift horse in the mouth. Two thousand years have passed since the time of the Emperor Vespasian, but I believe that this truth still applies, as I am hearing here.

The situation will not be resolved through one modest resolution, but through the courage to speak out against those with access to enormous financial resources. I am curious as to when sanctions are to be taken against all of the medieval regimes and I congratulate the authors on their unbelievable courage.

The Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left supports this resolution.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))


  Charles Tannock, Blue-card question. Mr President, I would just like to ask Mr Kohlíček: if the UAE is such an undesirable place to work, why are there thousands and thousands of people from the Indian subcontinent, from as far afield as Bangladesh and the Philippines, who would love to have a job in the UAE, where they get one of the highest wages in the Middle East for the work that they perform? There are also more than 100 000 Brits and other Europeans living there as well, so this idea that the people there are being exploited or in some kind of forced labour is also frankly absurd.


  Jaromír Kohlíček, Blue-card answer. − (CS) Mr President, Mr Tannock, I am amazed at your hypocrisy, because Europeans do not live in these fenced camps. However, if a person in southern Asia – in the final analysis, as a consequence of British colonial policy – either has to die or go to work under such degrading conditions, then he will choose to make the sacrifice for his family and go to work under these horrendous conditions.


  Rui Tavares, author. – (PT) Mr President, workers’ rights in the United Arab Emirates are currently facing serious challenges. The legal framework is currently very unfair for migrant workers, gives too much power to employers and allows them to interfere in the lives, including the personal lives, of their employees. There are laws impeding essential labour rights such as freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Without such rights, workers who are also immigrants have no way of asking for better treatment and so are condemned to a demoralising and inhuman existence. This has to stop.

We therefore call upon the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to move towards providing greater equality in the workplace and to build a good legal framework that gives workers their rights, allowing them freedom of association, granting them freedom of expression inside and outside the workplace, and giving them citizenship rights in the United Arab Emirates.


  Elena Băsescu, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (RO) Mr President, all countries must respect fundamental universal human rights, irrespective of their laws and religions.

Even though the United Arab Emirates still has some way to go in this regard, there has been progress recently. Its ratification in 2012 of the UN Convention against Torture and the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers demonstrates its commitment to continued reform. In addition, its bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council for 2013 to 2015 shows increasing commitment. There are clear signs that the United Arab Emirates wishes to embrace democratic values and comply with the relevant international standards.

Certainly, we cannot overlook its past abuses, but they have been increasingly isolated and will continue to be as long as the authorities are committed to the reforms.


  Liisa Jaakonsaari, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (FI) Mr President, the United Arab Emirates is an interesting and tremendously inconsistent country. It has invested hugely in education and wants to make its society highly skilled. It is therefore a very tragic, odd and terrible fact that, at the same time, this country violates human rights so blatantly, perhaps the worst example of which, in my opinion, is the fact that torture is allowed.

A matter of great concern to which attention has already been drawn here is the continuing weak status of women and the situation of migrant and domestic workers. They are indeed the target of violence and even sexual exploitation, and, for that reason, the debate in the European Parliament about the United Arab Emirates is extremely important.


  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, the United Arab Emirates represents oil, sheikhs, sun and luxury, but it also represents less pleasant and less modern things, such as torture, stoning, beheadings, public floggings and the oppression of women. Then there are the terrible working conditions in the booming construction industry, affecting guest workers in particular. Every year, a large number of guest workers in the region die as a result of inadequate safety standards.

Particularly shocking is a case that I would like to mention today. With all the whitewashing, I was unaware that a compatriot of mine, an Austrian doctor named Eugen Adelsmayr, was sentenced a few days ago to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates. He was fortunate; it could have been the death sentence. He was accused of having caused the death of a patient. What is astonishing about the case is that three expert statements exonerating Dr Adelsmayr were disregarded. It is also interesting that, in the course of being translated in Dubai, the statement by the authorities suddenly shrank from 25 to 6 pages and that the all-important 19 pages exonerating Dr Adelsmayr suddenly disappeared from the file.

This tallies with the human rights reports indicating that nepotism is apparently alive and well in this country and that evidence is blindly disregarded. We therefore need not just clear words, but clear actions, too: let us urge our citizens, in view of the lack of legal certainty, not to visit these countries and not to book a trip to the United Arab Emirates again until the situation has changed.


  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE). – Mr President, the UAE authorities have suppressed some democratic reforms. For instance, the government is detaining human rights defenders, activists and journalists. These individuals face the possible denial of their Emirate identity. In addition, their lawyers are dealing with harassment and the constant threat of deportation. According to the authorities, they were apprehended in an attempt to overthrow the government. However, this accusation seems to be a cover-up to hide the fact that the government is denying its own people this fundamental right.

In our negotiations with the UAE Government, the European Parliament must be concerned with the civil rights of the Emirati people. We must encourage the facilitation of the right to free expression, along with the right to a fair trial and access to unbiased legal aid. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this resolution.


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President. There are human rights failings in the United Arab Emirates. No one in this room is denying that fact or can turn a blind eye to them; indeed, at this moment, force is definitely being used there against hardline fundamentalists.

Women’s rights there are very weak. Cases are interpreted in accordance with Islamic laws, and women do not have access to legal proceedings under civil law. Similarly, we have highlighted the poor situation of migrant workers and their almost complete lack of rights.

With regard to human rights in particular, I would like to raise the matter of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, because the authorities have suppressed several very peaceful demonstrations and arrested activists, and human rights defenders and critics of the Government have faced all kinds of opposition. They have been jailed and they have also been discriminated against. In such situations, improvements are needed, although, at the same time, it is of course necessary to take care that the country does not slide into the hands of hardline fundamentalists.


  Antonio Cancian (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as I was also able to ascertain in person during the visit to the United Arab Emirates of the Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula of which I am a member, I consider that the relations the European Parliament is building with the UAE are positive and constructive.

We have always worked with mutual respect and our dialogue is based on this premise. I therefore feel that the wording of some paragraphs of this resolution renders it excessively critical, and does not take into account the efforts the UAE is making to acknowledge the human rights of workers and women. We are all aware of the uprisings taking place across several countries in the Arab world, such as Bahrain, and especially Syria, but from what I was led to believe, I do not feel it to be at such risk of degeneration as one might imagine. I believe that the European Parliament has not given the Government the chance to address the deep criticisms of the human rights situation in the UAE contained in the resolution.


  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE). – Mr President, although the United Arab Emirates remained relatively untouched by the events of the Arab Spring, the country is plagued by similar ills to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and others. The human rights and civil liberties of the people are suppressed, while the stage where this tragedy is taking place is decorated with oil money.

In the resolution we express our deep concern for the security and fate of the human rights defenders, political activists and civil society actors and call on the United Arab Emirates to grant to all people their fundamental rights. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2013 to 2015, the United Arab Emirates should set an example and halt the ongoing crack-downs, release all prisoners of conscience and investigate the assaults and threats made against activists.

Oil deposits cannot overshadow the universality and inviolability of human rights.


  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). (FI) Mr President, I shall state briefly that this situation is much more complex than people think. I myself signed the resolution, but I could not regard it as the most urgent of all.

It is regrettable that, for some people, in some countries, the Arab Spring has become a cold snap for human rights, and I personally understand the concern of the UAE leadership at the events in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt achieved victory through the democratic process, but the outlook for the future there is questionable. Are they interested in pursuing democracy and good governance or in pursuing political control? Human rights groups in Egypt have expressed their concern about aspects of the new constitution because it diminishes women’s rights and is unclear as to who falls within the scope of Sharia law and who does not.

Therefore, this House must closely monitor, in its entirety, everything that emerges from the Arab Spring from every angle.


  Nirj Deva (ECR). – Mr President, sometimes I want to weep. With Syria in flames, with Syria and Turkey at loggerheads, with Iran enriching uranium, with pirates running amok in the Indian Ocean, with Al-Qaida in Mali, and with Boko Haram running riot in Nigeria, what does the European Parliament think is urgent? Human rights in the UAE.

The UAE is one of the better places in the Middle East compared to some of the other countries. The human rights record in some of those neighbouring countries is appalling. Why are we talking about the UAE and not about those countries? Is it some envy or jealousy that we are expressing? Why is it that we had this extraordinary speech from my colleague Mr Kohlíček saying that people are going from India to live in terrible conditions in the UAE? India is a democracy and, if they leave India to work in the UAE voluntarily – nobody is taking them by force – then return and then go back again, that means that the conditions in the UAE must be better than in India. If the conditions were not better than India, why would they go?

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))


  Paul Murphy (GUE/NGL), Blue-card question. – Could it be the case that your unwillingness to criticise the human rights record in the UAE has something to do with the imperialist interests of the US and the major capitalist forces in Europe and their geostrategic interest in the region? Surely that explains the difference in your rhetoric in relation to human rights in Bahrain – another US client state – and your condemnations of human rights abuses elsewhere. I would also share your condemnation – but why the exception for the UAE?


  Nirj Deva (ECR), Blue-card answer. – I am very happy to answer the honourable Member’s question. We are not talking about Bahrain, we are not talking about Kuwait, we are not talking about Saudi Arabia, we are not talking about the other countries in the region; we are talking about the UAE.

The UAE has a better record on human rights, on looking after its migrant workers and on all the other conditions on the ICCP of the United Nations than of any of the other countries in the region. But I ask myself a question here: millions of migrant workers voluntarily go and work in the UAE. They leave appalling slums in India, Sri Lanka – where I come from – and Bangladesh. They go there to have a better life. Nobody is forcing them to go.


  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Poland has never had any colonies so I am sure that I will not be suspected of imperialism. I would like to make three brief comments. Firstly, Ms Ojuland is quite right: we should not allow oil to blind us to human rights issues. Mr Deva is, of course, absolutely correct: things are worse in other Arab countries. That cannot, however, justify not mentioning these cases in the United Arab Emirates. Secondly, Ms Korhola is right to state that winter is now upon us as far as human rights are concerned. That could, however, have been predicted earlier.

Some people, myself included, warned that it was likely that the Arab Spring would only lead to one set of free elections: those in which Islamic fundamentalists gained power. Finally, by its very nature, the European Parliament is a forum that holds more discussions about human rights than the European Commission or the Council. This is because the latter entities are more concerned with business and oil.


End of the catch-the-eye procedure


  Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the EU has followed the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the United Arab Emirates with some concern in recent months. As was recalled by honourable Members, several individuals were arrested in 2011 and 2012 simply for expressing their political views in the media or for signing an on-line petition on the internet. That petition asked for political and institutional reforms in a peaceful and respectful manner. Some of these individuals were tried and even deprived of their UAE citizenship. They were subsequently pardoned, but the legal case against them has not been filed.

The whereabouts of many of the other 60 political activists currently under arrest is not known. This is unacceptable and in breach of international conventions which the United Arab Emirates has signed and ratified. In addition to this, the UAE authorities closed down the offices of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung this spring. This is a prestigious foundation which was carrying out excellent work in the UAE. Never have the UAE authorities provided a satisfactory explanation for this eviction, which for the EU is all the more difficult to accept as that foundation was implementing an EU-funded project aimed at enhancing understanding and cooperation, which then had to be deeply redesigned.

All these cases of restrictions of civil and political rights, fundamental freedoms and human rights point to a deteriorating trend that cannot leave us indifferent, especially because of the friendly relations between the EU and the UAE and the good cooperation on several matters of common interest in the recent past.

The EU has repeatedly voiced its concern to the UAE Government, including very recently, through diplomatic channels. Human rights and fundamental freedoms were discussed with the Gulf Cooperation Council at the latest ministerial meeting that took place in Luxembourg in June. These issues will certainly feature on the agenda of the next meetings with the Gulf at all levels, and the same messages were conveyed during the visit of a delegation of this Parliament earlier this year. The EU is ready to discuss these issues with the UAE and to support them in case they need and want our support.

However, we want to talk to all stakeholders, activists, civil society and human rights defenders too, and not only the government of the country. In this context, the upcoming establishment of an EU delegation in Abu Dhabi, strongly supported by this Parliament, will definitely be an element enabling us to do more and better.

A specific case was raised by Member of Parliament Obermayr in relation to Dr Adelsmayr, which the EU has been following very attentively since the very beginning of this case, in close cooperation with the Austrian authorities. We remain ready to undertake any steps that may provide necessary with the UAE authorities in order to resolve this situation.


  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debates.

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