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Protests at Cop28 shouldn't trick observers into thinking UAE is a free country, rights activists warn

PROTESTS were allowed to take place outside the Cop28 summit in Dubai today — but a rights activist warned that the despotic United Arab Emirates (UAE) was merely putting on a liberal mask for the world.

Demonstrators called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while other protests focused on the United Nations’ climate summit’s failure to address global warming with sufficient urgency — some attempting to resuscitate an inflatable planet Earth.

Human Rights Watch’s Joey Shea said protests had been allowed after talks between the UN and UAE, but that these would ordinarily be banned. 

“It helps to create this very false image that the UAE does have respect for rights when in fact it does not,” Ms Shea said.

The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each ruled by a hereditary emir; the seven emirs elect a president  — in practice, always the emir of Abu Dhabi — and a vice-president — always the emir of Dubai. Each holds absolute power in his emirate, and trade unions and political parties are illegal.

Ms Shea said she would not risk speaking to anyone outside the UN-administered “blue zone” — Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have been barred from the UAE since the “Arab Spring” uprisings of the late 2000s. She said that ubiquitous security cameras meant that residents — almost 90 per cent of whom are not Emirati citizens but form an expatriate working class mainly from the Indian subcontinent — could easily be targeted for having spoken to foreign rights activists.

Today’s Cop28 session focused on climate change and health, with subjects including air pollution deaths and the revival of diseases such as cholera and malaria as a result of more frequent natural disasters such as floods.


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