When released in December 1948, the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was meant to be a global constitution that all humans, from all walks of life, can enjoy the privileges it guarantees and commit to the principles it stipulates.
More than half a century later, the majority of the thirty principles of the UDHR are still seen as hard-to-reach goals for most people and most governments; not only in non-democratic or less-developed countries, but also in developed countries with established democratic systems of governance. In other words, almost every state in the world has failed in committing to human rights values, at some time in its history, and had to struggle for long years, or decades, build a state structure sensitive to human rights.
For example, the practice of racial discrimination against the black people in the United States remained an unresolved issue for decades. Only in 1960s, things started to change after the eruption of the civil rights movement. Since then, it took the consecutive American leaderships a huge amount courage, time, and resources to ban slavery and give equal rights to all citizens. Ironically, such a basic human right has not been fully realized in the most democratic country in the world, up till this day.
Despite this proven fact, the United States and some European countries love to use the human rights issue to pressure their Arab allies for political reasons.
On September 17th, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on member states to boycott or withdraw their companies from “Expo 2020 Dubai,” that will start in October and last till March of next year. The move is justified by the European Parliament as a means to protest the human rights record of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It does not need an expert eye to realize that this parliamentary resolution is politically motivated, with the purpose to put UAE under pressure and distract audience from the shining glamor of UAE’s success in organizing such an international event.
However, it seems that the European Parliament has hit the wrong spot. Human Rights is not a point of weakness for the UAE to attack. The UAE is one of the best countries in the Arab Gulf region, if not among all Arab countries, when it comes to respecting and guaranteeing basic human rights. To measure this, one can simply look at the status of women’s rights and religious freedoms as two major indicators. These two categories, in particular, are severely violated in most Arab countries, but not in the UAE.
Women are literally leading the public life in the UAE, especially in the political and business sectors. UAE has nine female ministers, most of them are young. No other country in the region, including Egypt where the state is very supportive to women’s rights, has this number of young women ministers. At another field, at least half of the team that led UAE’s Hope Probe Mission to Planet Mars, last year, were young women. In addition, UAE is allegedly the only country in the Arab Gulf region that has a huge and influential council for business women, who are leading hundreds of successful trade and charity projects, inside UAE and all over the world.
Looking at religious freedom, the UAE has taken unprecedented steps, in the past five years, to enhance and support religious freedom for all faiths. That includes making legislative amendments or building worship houses for the millions of humans, who came from all walks of life, to live and work in the UAE. For example, UAE is the only Arab government that allows building Hindu temples on its land. The government in Abu Dhabi has been working, for about two years, on building a huge Hindu Temple. That should not be taken lightly in a region that suffers from chronic violent extremism and fanaticism to one religion.
Nevertheless, UAE leadership is keen to further improve its human rights, on other levels. In August, the President of the State, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, issued a decree to establish a national body for human rights, based on Paris Principles. Its purpose is to help government bureaus improve performance on human rights issues and educating the general public on human rights. That is a precedent in the Arab Gulf region.
It is hard to understand why would the European Parliament purposefully ignore all the aforementioned positive achievements by the UAE government in the human rights arena. The only way to interpret this weird situation is by claiming that some members in the parliament are trying to put some political pressures on UAE, for some wrong reasons. Those need to understand that the human rights issue is not UAE’s weak spot and thus their pressures, from that angel, is not going to work in their favor or for the benefit of human rights. It may even backfire in a negative direction.
BY: Dalia Ziada