Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Pope Francis to exert pressure on UAE during his visit, which begins on Sunday, to stop serious human rights abuses committed by its forces in Yemen and end repression practices against oppositionists inside.
In a letter sent by the international organisation to the leader of the Vatican, HRW stated that Pope Francis should take advantage of his visit to the UAE to push the Emirati government to improve the human rights situation in the country.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said: “Despite its emphasis on tolerance, the UAE government has shown no real interest in improving the country’s human rights record.”
“Pope Francis should take advantage of his visit to put pressure on UAE leaders so that they would fulfil their human rights obligations at home and abroad,” she added.
The UAE has played a prominent role in the military operations of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, amid accusations that the coalition has indiscriminately shelled homes, markets and schools, obstructed access to humanitarian aid and used internationally banned cluster munitions on a large scale.
Locally, international human rights organisations accused the UAE of constantly infringing on freedom of expression and association activities, as well as the detention of many activists inside prisons, where systematic torture is practised.
Likewise, thousands of wage-earning migrant workers are highly vulnerable to forced labour.
A few days ago, Qatar called on Pope Francis to take urgent humanitarian action in favour of the victims of the embargo on the siege states and to push the UAE authorities to neutralise civilians and not to involve them in the political conflicts.
The Pope will visit the United Arab Emirates from the 3rd to 5th of February to participate in the interfaith dialogue at the invitation of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and the Catholic Church in the UAE.
The first visit of the highest Christian authority in the world to the Arabian Peninsula comes a few weeks ahead of the Pope’s planned visit to Morocco, where he plans to continue boosting relations with the Muslim world.