Rights groups urge boycott of Dubai Expo 2020

Dozens of rights groups call for boycott of Dubai Expo 2020
4 min read
03 October, 2021
Human rights organisations are calling for a boycott of the Dubai Expo 2020 over the UAE's human rights violations, which includes the bombardment of Yemen, prosecution of peaceful protesters and the cruel treatment of migrant workers.
Human rights campaigners say the Expo lies on the 'graves of the people who built it' [source: Getty]

More than 70 human rights organisations are urging countries, companies and the public to boycott the Dubai Expo 2020 in protest of the UAE's human rights abuses. 

Their campaign, "expose the expo", slammed the exhibition as propaganda to normalise and distract from the UAE's involvement in the war in Yemen, cruel treatment of migrant workers and track record of arbitrary arrests. 

With the world fair kicking off this weekend and lasting until March 2022, grassroots groups, such as Detained International and Freedom Forward, plan to write letters to the hundreds of participants at the Expo and get them to think twice before attending. 

"People believe the spin about Dubai," said human rights lawyer and founder of NGO Detained International David Haigh to The New Arab.

There is an image of it being "open and honest", he said. "But they are pulling us all for fools.

"We want to educate people about what is really going on."

Haigh, who spent 22 months jailed without charge in Dubai, told The New Arab that "there are no human rights" in the country. 

The lawyer referred to the criminalisation of homosexuality in the UAE, as well as the case of American businessman Zack Shahin was is serving a 53-year sentence on false accusations of financial crimes. He said this was as evidence of the country's "hypocrisy" and "dangerous" punitive laws. 

He spoke about the poet Ahmed Mansoor, a 51-year-old Emirati, and father of four, who is imprisoned in the UAE for what Human Rights Watch described as "peaceful criticism of the government and his modest calls for human rights reform". 

Princess Latifa, daughter of the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed, also came up. It was reported earlier this year that the princess has been held captive by her father after she tried to escape from the UAE in 2018.  

Haigh then went on to describe in detail how migrant workers are treated in the country. 

Promoted on social media
The Expo has been promoted on social media over the weekend of October 2 and 3

"They live like slaves in the pyramids," he said. "Many are bused over from Pakistan and India, have their passport taken, and end up living in squalor conditions in the extreme heat of the desert."

The Expo lies on "the graves of the people that built it".

After eight years and billions of dollars spent, the UAE is banking on the exhibition to bring glamour and prestige to a city.  

The Expo describes itself as a "global innovation and partnership programme [that] offers funding, support and exposure to innovators globally". 

It was built in the desert from "nothing", said Ahmed Al-Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer. Now it is a sprawling urban mass the size of a city, with a number of pavilions for countries across the world. 

Some 192 nations are scheduled to attend, as well as a number of companies like Coca-Cola and celebrities such as Ellie Goulding and Will Smith. 

The European Union parliament urged its member states and sponsors to boycott the 2020 Expo over human rights violations in the week ahead of its opening. It also called for "all other human rights defenders, political activists and peaceful dissidents" detained in the country to be freed. 

A number of member states have ignored the call to boycott, and have a pavilion at the Expo, including Italy, France and Spain. The UK also has a pavilion. 

The UAE acknowledged on Sunday that six workers died during the Expo’s construction, and 72 serious injuries were reported among the 200,0000 workers. 

Haigh said that this number is probably far higher. 

The lawyer said that those who do not boycott the event should "use their influenced" to conduct "closed-door diplomacy" over human rights abuse. 

"[The UAE] are engaging in outrageous behaviour that subverts democracy," said Sunjeev Berry, Executive Director of Freedom Forward - an organisation also involved in calls to boycott the Dubai Expo 2020 - to The New Arab. 

Berry offered an optimistic note on the campaign, saying that it marks a "path forward" for countries and figures to play an "ethnical and careful role" in global diplomacy. 

He highlighted the hypocrisy of US President Joe Biden’s administration, who claim to be champions of human rights, but have so far remained "silence" and "devoid of the reality" in places like the UAE. 

However, this is an opportunity for "the monarchy to give way to democracy" - if international pressure is applied, said Berry. 

"This is just the beginning," he added. 

The New Arab contacted the UAE embassy in UK for comment, but no response was received at the time of publication.