Mystery group defends UAE's rights record

Mansoor Lootah: attacked Human Rights Watch 

Human Rights Watch has recently come under attack from a mysterious Swiss-based organisation objecting to a section of its annual World Report which discusses the United Arab Emirates.

Summarising the human rights situation in the Emirates, HRW's report said:

"The United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued in 2014 to arbitrarily detain individuals it perceives as posing a threat to national security, and its security forces continued to face allegations that they torture detainees in pretrial detention. 

"UAE courts invoked repressive laws to prosecute government critics, and a new counterterrorism law poses a further threat to government critics and rights activists. 

"Migrant construction workers on one of the country’s most high-profile projects continued to face serious exploitation, and female domestic workers were still excluded from regulations that apply to workers in other sectors."

This prompted a vitriolic response from the International Gulf Organization (IGO) which describes itself as a "non-governmental organisation dedicated to implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at regional and international levels".

In a denunciation posted on IGO's website, the organisation's chairman, Mansoor Lootah, accused Human Rights Watch of "targeting" the UAE. The article continued:

"He [Lootah] equally pointed out that this targeting has its motives and grounds on the organisation’s side and that they are selfish and far away from the lofty human values founded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as enshrined by the International Bill of Rights and Freedoms. 

"The Human Rights Watch Report specifically for this year, is a drastic violation of those rights and freedoms with its allegations, defects and contradictions which makes clear the goals, rationales and its value and considerations of rights which the Report failed to mention.. 

"This also greatly influenced the Report’s credibility and reliability, especially in some aspects with which the Report has dealt shamefully with no justification, appreciation or respect of the public awareness, and without observing any limits of integrity, fairness and credibility."

Besides appearing on IGO's website, the article was also circulated by WAM, the UAE government's news agency, and published or summarised by at least two Emirati newspapers, the Khaleej Times and The National

It's interesting that Emirati media think the International Gulf Organization is credible enough to be worth quoting, since it is a very peculiar NGO (if, in fact, it really is an NGO). Its website gives no postal address and no phone number, and a web page purportedly listing its board of directors is entirely blank. Unlike most NGOs, its website doesn't invite donations from the public. There is, however, a place on the website where people can apply to become a member of IGO, but it's not very inviting: you have to provide a copy of your CV and explain why you want to join.

Although IGO claims to be an international organisation with headquarters in Geneva, it seems to be mainly interested in fending off complaints about the UAE's human rights record.

In 2013 it produced a documentary film about the controversial trial of 94 Islamists accused of conspiracy in the UAE. The film challenged claims that the trial was unfair and the UAE's government-run National Media Council helpfully organised a special showing of it for journalists.

IGO claimed to have financed the film itself, without government support. Bloomberg reported at the time:

"Robert Resto, IGO’s marketing and media manager, declined to say how the group, which he described as a not-for-profit and non-government group, is funded." 

Last year IGO produced a 13-page report on legislation in the GCC countries relating to domestic workers.

Although the report was not uncritical of Gulf states' performance in this area, the Migrant Rights organisation accused it of misrepresenting the situation faced by domestic workers and regurgitating government talking points without substantive analysis.

Earlier this week, IGO signed an agreement with the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights which (according to IGO) will "enable the two bodies to work more effectively to protect and boost the respect for human rights, and to spread the culture of human rights and develop the legislations and practices related to human rights in the Arab world".      

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Saturday, 21 February 2015