COP28 : make participation inclusive for all including for UAE activists


Civil Society call to UAE: At COP28, prioritise rights of most affected by climate crisis, allow dissent, and release illegally imprisoned activists. 

Please add your voice to this important advocacy effort by including your signature below, by Friday September 22.  

The up-coming United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference 2023, also known as Conference of Parties (COP28), taking place in  Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) should prioritise the rights of communities and people most affected by climate change. It should set a positive trend for future climate conferences by allowing full and inclusive participation in its decision making processes for indigenous peoples, activists, and civil society. 

The UAE as the host of COP 28, should lead by example and lift all restrictions that have been in place for years on the rights of Emiratis to express themselves, associate and assemble in line with international human rights frameworks.  We ask the  UAE to release all human rights defenders (HRDs), activists and journalists currently in detention.  

Create an enabling environment for inclusive participation and decision making 

A successful COP requires all participants including those from civil society and under-represented groups to have full access to decision-making sessions. The conference must  ensure  that they can express their views, including about the state of human rights in the UAE without fear of intimidation. We are concerned that months before the start of COP, UAE officials made utterances urging participants not to criticise the UAE, corporations, individuals or protest the restrictions on civic space. 

Speakers from a pre-COP climate health Summit held in Abu Dhabi, reported that conference organisers advised speakers not to be critical of Islam, government, corporations and not to protest while in the UAE. These pre-conditions reflect the abysmal state of civic space in the UAE and the attacks on HRDs, activists and journalists who have spoken about human rights issues. The statement defeats the purpose and intent of COP and may force some participants to self censor.  

We remind the  government of the UAE, the United Nations and all participating states of the  Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan  by the Parties related to civil society and civic space. They  committed to consider respective obligations to human rights and recognise the roles of civil society, indigenous communities and youth when responding to climate change. Vigorous and inclusive climate action depends on the full and meaningful participation of all stakeholders including civil society, states, activists and indigenous communities. 

Concerns over continued detention of HRDs in the UAE 

Planning for the forthcoming COP is being done against a backdrop of an ongoing human rights crisis and heightened civic space restrictions in the UAE. The UAE is listed in the worst category -”closed” - on the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory research platform that maps civic space globally. Currently, scores of human rights defenders and activists are still in detention for their peaceful human rights activities and for calling for democratic reforms. Those in detention include prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor who is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence and has been in solitary confinement since he was arrested in March 2017 for his human rights activities. 

More than 60 other activists who are part of a group  known as the UAE94 were arrested in 2012 for their pro-democracy activities and sentenced to prison terms ranging from  seven years to 15 years. They were prosecuted and sentenced in violation of their fair trial rights including pre-trial violations. Most have served their full sentences but no one has been released.They and other activists continue to be held in Munasaha (Counselling) Centres, in the same prison citing them as a threat to security and in need of rehabilitation. Activists including Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Helou, Abdulslaam Darwish, Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi and Dr Mohammed Al-Roken and many others continue to be detained after their prison sentences expired.  

Protests often held  alongside COPs are critical in highlighting concerns over restrictions faced by the most vulnerable people and call for more accountability for parties attending these gatherings. In the UAE, though the constitution guarantees the right to protest, in reality demonstrations are effectively banned as the authorities require prior notification before any protests. Restrictive legislation including the Federal Crime and Punishment Law, the Law Combating Rumours and Cyber Crimes (2021) and the Criminal Code impose harsh penalties including life sentences for those who lead or promote gatherings in public spaces with the intention of causing riots or endangering public security.  These laws also restrict the ability of Emiratis to organise or plan protests online and criminalise public declarations of dissent  to the state or governance system or disloyalty to the leadership. 

The successful organisation of COP28 may be compromised if the government of the UAE does not urgently address these restrictions and create an enabling environment in which all stakeholders at COP are able to express their views including during peaceful protests without fear of intimidation, arrests or detention. Civil society has a crucial role to play in providing information, community perspectives, and advocating on climate issues to states, policy makers and the media.  

Prioritise concerns of excluded groups including indigenous communities

Over the last two months, more than 500 representatives of indigenous communities from at least 20 countries had pre-COP consultations and raised concerns about the lack of participation of indigenous groups in COP decision making processes. Indigenous communities already face discrimination , often excluded from decision-making processes at national level, denied access to justice and  forcefully removed from their ancestral lands to make way for projects. As a community most affected by climate change, indigenous groups often have to contend with large corporations who collude with governments to construct large-scale and often environmentally-harmful  projects on the ancestral lands of these communities. 

Deliberate efforts need to be made to guarantee the inclusion and full participation of indigenous persons in official and unofficial events leading to, during and after COP 28.  While indigenous communities acknowledge the unprecedented participation in side events during last year’s COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, this participation did not extend to key spaces where resolutions were discussed resulting in the omission of key concerns of indigenous communities in the major outcomes from the Conference. 

We welcome the decisions taken in the previous COPs that created a Loss and Damage Fund to provide financing for vulnerable countries most affected by climate disasters but once again indigenous communities risk being ignored when the fund is operationalized. Current climate finance mechanisms do not prioritise indigenous communities and if the current model of financing stays the same, the actions on loss and damage will be ineffective.      

To guarantee an inclusive, robust and accountable COP, we, the undersigned civil society organisations and members of indigenous communities across the world, urge the UAE, state parties and UN to:  

  • Guarantee the inclusive participation of all groups without any discrimination prior to and during COP. This includes granting all participants travel documents and allowing access to key decision making forums.  
  • Allow the freedom of peaceful assembly before, during and after COP28. Recognise Protests as a critical means for the civil society to articulate their concerns and proposals, especially for communities excluded in decision processes of the state parties during the conference. 
  • Take meaningful steps to address the human rights crisis in the UAE, lift restrictions on civic space and respect the right of freedom of expression, association and assembly. 
  • Comply  with all recommendations made to the UAE under its Universal Periodic Review this year. 
  • Release all human rights defenders, activists and prisoners of conscience currently in detention, including Ahmed Mansoor and all members of the UAE 94, and drop all charges against them.  
  • End impunity for human rights violations by holding to account government representatives who work to  restrict the ability of civil society and COP participants from expressing themselves without fear of intimidation and harassment.   
  • Place indigenous people at the centre of climate finance decisions and include specific language recognising the rights of indigenous communities in major decisions and actions that will be taken in COP 28.  
  • Create an indigenous peoples technical working group to serve as a formal standing mechanism for negotiations during COP 28 which will ensure the concerns of indigenous people are fractured into solutions and actions from the negotiation

Endorsed by:

  1. Young Advocates for a Sustainable and Inclusive Future (YASIF) Nigeria
  3. Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) - Kenya
  4. Réseau des Femmes Leaders pour le Développement (RFLD) - Pan African
  6. Women for Green Economy Movement Uganda (WoGEM Uganda) - Uganda
  7. Unissons nous pour la Promotion des Batwa (UNIPROBA) - Burundi
  8. OilWatch Africa -  Nigeria 
  9. Assistance aux Laissés Pour Compte (ALPC) - Cameroun 
  10. Canard Dechaine Media - Niger
  11. Association BIOWA - Burkina Faso
  12. Coalition Nationale des Volontaires pour le Développement Durable (CNVD)  - Cameroun
  13. Association pour le Développement Social et Culturel des Mbororo du Cameroun. (MBOSCUDA) - Cameroun
  14. Foyer d’Accueil Pour Jeune Fille Mère (FAJEFIM) - Cameroun
  15. Association de Lutte Contre Toute Forme de Violence (ALUCOV) -Cameroun
  16. Association Pour la Promotion du Développement Durable et des Activités Sociales (APRODDAS) - Cameroun
  17. cercle des oeuvres pour les initiatives de 
  18. developpement africaine (COIDAF) - Cameroun 
  19. Sourire et Espoir sans frontières (SESF) - Cameroon
  20.  Association pour Assistance Humanitaire (AAH) - Cameroun 
  21. Benet Mosop Indigenous Community Association (BMCA) - Uganda.
  22. Prime Initiative for Green Development (PIGD) - Nigeria.
  23. Egbema Voice of Freedom - Nigeria.
  24. Global Advancement Initiative(GAI) - Nigeria
  25. Forum for Peace and Development Initiatives (FOPEDI). KENYA 
  26. Namibia Indigenous Peoples Advocacy Platform Trust (NIPAP TRUST -  Namibia
  27. Batwa Indigenous Community 
  28. Benet Lobby Group
  29. Action for Climate and Environmental Justice (ACEJ) _ Uganda
  30. United Organisation for the Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) - Uganda
  31. Batwa Community Development Organisation (BCDO) - Uganda
  32. Batwa Indigenous Empowerment Organisation (BIEO) - Uganda
  33. Batwa Development Organisation (BDO) - Uganda
  34. Action for the Batwa Empowerment Group (ABEG) - Uganda
  35. Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Program (CIPDP) - Kenya
  36. Greater Benet Apiary Group
  37. Ogiek Indigenous Development Program - Kenya
  38. Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum 
  39. Endorois Indigenous Women Empowerment Network (EIWEN)
  40. (PINGO’s Forum) - Tanzania
  1. Botswana Khwedom Council- Botswana
  2. The San Vision Foundation(TSVF)- South Africa
  3. The Voice of the San People - South Africa
  4. East Africa Campuses and colleges green network - EACCGN
  5. Baringo Women and Youth Organization (BWYO)- Baringo, Kenya.
  6. Yiaku Laikipiak Trust (YLT)-Kenya 
  7. Endorois Welfare Council(EWC)- Kenya
  8. Oltoilo LeMaa CBO {OLM-K}- Kenya
  9. Ewang’an Foundation - Kenya
  10. Kenya Indigenous Youth Network - Kenya
  11. Women of hope abled differently org WHAD- Kenya 
  12. UG Women for Peace- Kenya
  13. Forum for Indigenous Resource Management(F.I.R.M)-Kenya
  14. Ogiek Peoples Development Program (OPDP)- Kenya 
  15. Moonlight Initiative- Sagana, Kenya.
  16. Turkana Development Organizations Forum -TuDOF Kenya.
  17. African Resource Centre for Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities - Africa
  18. Sourire et Espoir sans frontières -  Cameroon
  19. South African Nama Development Association (SANDEVA)   SOUTH AFRICA NC.



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