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Human Rights Watch Condemns UAE’s Invitation of Bashar al-Assad to COP 28

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the invitation extended by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the COP 28 climate conference, stressing the need to hold Syrian government officials accountable for crimes against humanity.

Joey Shea, a researcher at the organization, stated that while the UAE welcomes Assad, it remains unclear whether independent members of the Emirati civil society can actively participate in meaningful climate discussions at COP 28 due to severe repression and the complete closure of civic space in the country.

Shea emphasized that since 2011, the Emirati authorities have continuously attacked freedom of expression and association, arresting and imprisoning dozens of activists and government critics, including prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor.

Reports have indicated the UAE’s intention to welcome Bashar al-Assad, who is directly implicated in the atrocities taking place in his country, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 28), while excluding civil society and human rights activists from participating in the conference itself.

If Assad attends, it will mark his first appearance at a global conference since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.

The UAE, which has shown limited leadership in climate-related issues such as phasing out fossil fuels and halting new oil and gas field expansions, now appears prepared to assist Assad in polishing his image, despite his oversight of crimes against his own people.

If Assad travels to Dubai, it will be his third visit to the country since 2022. The UAE government has not publicly addressed the crimes committed under his rule during any of these visits.

The Syrian government has committed extensive and grave crimes, displacing millions of people. Humanitarian aid continues to be weaponized, denying opposition populations their rightful access to it.

War crimes persist in the country, including in November 2022, when Syrian government forces dropped banned cluster munitions on displaced persons’ camps in northwest Syria.

Meanwhile, Arab countries, led by the UAE, have rushed to normalize relations with the Assad government without demanding accountability for the serious violations committed over the past 12 years.

The Arab League reinstated Syria’s membership on May 7, 2023, after suspending it in 2011, without seemingly requiring Syria to respect the human rights of its people.

The UAE appointed Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the largest government-owned fossil fuel company, as the president of COP 28.

Al Jaber will continue to serve in his position at ADNOC while assuming the presidency of the conference. ADNOC recently announced its intention to expand all aspects of its operations in the fossil fuel sector.

The organization emphasized that it is disgraceful to exploit a conference aimed at promoting ambitious climate action to reintegrate the Assad government into the international arena without any attempt to ensure accountability for its significant violations.

It urged participating governments at COP 28 to guarantee an investigation into the serious crimes committed under Assad’s rule and prosecute the perpetrators.