Activists and researchers held protests under strict guidelines in the protected 'blue zone' to raise issues related to the war between Israel and Hamas, environmental degradation and human rights
Participants in the United Nations' COP28 climate talks were greeted on Sunday by a rare sight in the United Arab Emirates: public protests.
From the largest demonstration in the UAE since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas to environmental issues, activists entering the UAE can protest in the summit's 'Blue Zone' under strict guidelines. Human rights researchers from organizations long banned by the country have been allowed in — although many acknowledge they may not be allowed back into the country.
“One of our biggest issues with COP28 is the fact that the UAE government is using this to burnish its image internationally and the fact that limited protests are allowed… is a good thing,” Joey Shea said on her maiden trip to the COP28. UAE as a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But ultimately it helps create a very false image that the UAE respects rights, when in fact it does not.”
The UAE bans political parties and unions, and laws restrict freedom of expression. About 10% of the total population of more than 9.2 million people are Emirati. The rest are expats, many of them low-paid workers who want to send money home to their families. Many prefer not to say anything about working conditions, human rights and environmental issues because they see their livelihoods at risk. However, the UN and UAE agreed before COP28 that free speech would be allowed.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people gathered as part of solidarity protests on behalf of Palestinians, just a short distance from the Israeli pavilion in Dubai's Expo City. The same number of spectators and journalists watched as they chanted, read the names of the dead and held up their fists. However, unlike some other COP summits, there have been no marches of tens of thousands of people outside the venue.
Babawale Obayanju, an activist with the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice from Benin City, Nigeria, who took part in Sunday's protests, told the AP that it was important to highlight the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip because “it is time for the world to take action” on that issue and on the environment. “Every opportunity we have, every arena of this struggle is one we must embrace,” Obayaju said. “And the COP is in that arena of struggle.”