The United Arab Emirates (UAE) likes to portray itself as a modern, progressive country—a nation on the rise. The home to the glittering skyscrapers and nightclubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi was last month listed among the top 10 countries of the Global Soft Power Index for the first time—ahead of Australia and Sweden and just behind Italy.
Ahead of Chad and just behind Transdniestria is the ranking we more associate with the UAE. It’s where the diminutive Gulf state sits on Freedom House’s recent Freedom in the World Index. As two international human rights lawyers who have represented a number of the UAE’s victims of arbitrary detention, disappearance, and torture, we know that for every “successful Expo 2020 and in anticipation of COP 28” that has the Soft Power Index judges panting there’s an Amnesty International report on serious human rights breaches and brutal suppression.
The news from the UAE that climate campaigner attendees at an environmental conference trailing the country’s hosting of COP28 were issued with written guidance that they “do not criticise the UAE government, corporations or individuals” and “do not protest” is depressingly familiar.
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