United Arab Emirates

Open Letter To COP28 Participating Governments Regarding UAE Human Rights and Climate Concerns


13 September 2023

To the Participating Governments at the COP28 Climate Conference,

We write as a global network of organizations with grave human rights concerns regarding the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), host of the 2023 COP28 climate negotiations. We support the concerns expressed by climate justice movements that allowing COP28 to be held by the rulers of a repressive petrostate, and overseen by an oil executive, is reckless, represents a blatant conflict of interest, and threatens the legitimacy of the whole process.

Climate justice and human rights are deeply interconnected – there cannot be one without the other. As COP28 delegates prepare to attend the talks in Dubai, it is crucial for the international community to use the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the UAE’s human rights record, and to stand in solidarity with communities on the frontlines working to stop climate change impacts and human rights violations in the UAE and across the world.

We, as a global network of civil society organizations, will not be silenced by a government that has long used surveillance, propaganda tactics, and violent repression to silence critics, control public discourse, and shut down civil society organizations and movements. We will not allow for COP28 and the urgent and ambitious climate commitments needed from this process to be derailed or watered down by greenwashing efforts. We will oppose any attempt to use COP28 and our presence to greenwash this repressive government. Rather, we call for COP28 to be used to shine the global spotlight on the human rights violations perpetrated against communities inside the UAE — especially prisoners of conscience, migrant workers, women, and LGBTQI+ communities — and beyond. We won’t allow for our solidarity to be weaponized by wealthy industrialized countries to point the finger at the UAE and at the same time refuse to take responsibility for their historical and continued human rights violations and for their historical and continued role in creating and fueling the climate crisis.

At COP28 and beyond, we reiterate our call that there can be no climate justice without human rights, and there can be no human rights without climate justice.

As a global network of civil society organizations, we the undersigned urge you to take the following immediate steps to address the UAE's ongoing human rights crisis and to ensure that COP28 climate negotiations produce the ambitious commitments necessary to address global climate change:

  1. Demand that the UAE not spy on COP28 attendees and end unlawful state surveillance that violates international human rights law and standards.The UAE is a surveillance state that uses its technology to spy on millions of people both inside and outside its borders. The UAE must end all unlawful state surveillance that violates international human rights law and standards, including the right to privacy.
    The UAE must refrain from conducting surveillance related to COP28 and its attendees. In addition, the UAE must also cease the use of spyware and surveillance technologies to repress peaceful critics and journalists, stop censoring and controlling Internet usage and communication networks, and allow full access to all encrypted messenger apps and virtual private networks (VPNs).
  2. Call on the UAE to release all prisoners of conscience.
    The rulers of the UAE have unjustly imprisoned numerous Emirati human rights defenders, civil society activists, and political dissidents. In 2021, these human rights concerns led the European Parliament to vote to “encourage Member States not to participate” in the UAE Dubai World Expo, a decision that received international attention. The UAE must release all prisoners of conscience, stop harassing their families, close all secret prisons, and stop torturing detainees.
  3. Demand action on UAE violations of women’s rights.
    COP28 attendees must refuse to meet with UAE officials who have committed violence against women, such as Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (kidnapping of his adult daughters and spousal abuse) and UAE Minister of “Tolerance” Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan (accused of rape). The UAE must investigate and prosecute these individuals, free the disappeared Dubai Princess Shamsa, and repeal laws that discriminate against women.
  4. Condemn UAE violations of LGBTQI+ rights.
    The UAE must repeal all laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ individuals, end all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and respect freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for LGBTQI+ individuals.
  5. Call for workers’ rights reforms and reparations for forced labor.
    The UAE monarchy must pay reparations to all migrant workers who built or have worked at the site of the COP28 facilities (Expo City Dubai) under conditions of abuse and forced labor, commit to protecting migrant workers from exposure to extreme heat and related occupational risks, lift the ban on independent trade unions, abolish the Kafala system of labor sponsorship, and end all sex trafficking and conditions of sexual slavery in Dubai.
  6. Urge the UAE to stop supporting human rights violators in Yemen and across the Middle East and North Africa.
    The UAE must end its long history of supporting human rights violations and abuses by armed groups and governments that violate human rights, including in Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In Yemen, the UAE must pay reparations to people harmed by Saudi/UAE-led airstrikes on civilians and the Saudi/UAE military coalition’s blockade. The UAE must also stop supporting abuses by armed groups in Yemen that are responsible for violations of international law. In Libya, the UAE must stop violating the UN Security Council’s comprehensive arms embargo and stop supplying arms to any armed forces in the country.
  7. Publicly repudiate UAE greenwashing and fossil fuel hypocrisy:
    The UAE must end its greenwashing campaign, abandon its plans to dramatically increase state oil and gas production, and rectify the profound conflict of interest created by UAE state oil company chief executive Sultan al-Jaber also serving as president of the COP28 climate negotiations.
    In addition, we urge all nations to make meaningful and ambitious commitments at COP28, with rich countries taking responsibility for their historical emissions and leading the way with commitments in line with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and principles of equity. COP28 must produce a global commitment to phase out all fossil fuels and fossil fuel subsidies at the speed needed to keep global average temperature increases below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The entire world will be impacted by the agreements reached during the COP28 climate negotiations. Unfortunately, the legitimacy of the conference and the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is at risk if human rights and civic space aren’t protected in the UAE and across the world, and if major polluters and rich countries continue to interfere with the urgent and drastic climate commitments that are needed. As global civil society organizations, groups, and movements, we reiterate our deepest concern and urgent call for both human rights and climate justice to be at the center of the COP process this year and always.


List of signatories