UAE rights outside council remit

Manchester Council won't cut business ties

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A council is resisting calls to raise the issue of human rights abuses in a country with which it has close business ties.

Campaigners want Manchester City Council to use its position to speak up for Ahmed Mansoor – a human rights defender from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who is being held in custody. His arrest last month follows a crackdown on activists and lawyers in the country, which has seen scores jailed.

Amnesty International says Manchester is in a unique position to stand up for Mansoor due to its commercial relationships with senior figures in the country’s government.

Public pressure could help

Emirati cash flows into the city via the Manchester Life Development Company (MLDC) – which is developing parts of Ancoats – and Manchester City Football Club.

But the council says its business relationships are with private entities and that human rights issues fall outside its remit.

Henrike Greuel from Manchester Amnesty International said: “Manchester has a proud history of standing up for equality, democracy and human rights.

“The average person here needs to understand that we are profiting from this relationship with a country that is perpetrating great human rights abuses.

“Manchester has such a strong relationship with UAE – closer than any other UK city -– that we could really put pressure on them over the plight of Ahmed Mansoor and other jailed activists. It is a country that cares so much about its image that some public pressure could really make a difference.”

Up to his arrest, Mansoor had been working with Amnesty to raise the profile of UAE’s human rights situation, which in 2013 saw 69 activists jailed following a trial of 94 people.

Last year the organisation teamed up with Human Rights Watch to issue an open letter to the country’s leaders, raising concerns about its record. Four Greater Manchester MPs and three councillors put their names to the letter.

Mansoor is being held at an unknown location. Campaigners say he is without legal representation and may be at risk of torture. It is thought his arrest is linked to his series of tweets calling for the release of Emirati human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar, or to a letter he signed, along with other activists in the region, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the Middle East.

Mansoor won the Laureate Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders 2015 and is a member of the advisory board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

Manchester councillor Yasmine Dar, one of the three councillors to sign last year’s open letter, said: “Every one of us has a duty to stand up against human rights violations and atrocities, whether that be here in the UK or in the rest of the world. Regardless of who the oppressors are we should unite and raise our voice in solidarity with the oppressed.

“As elected custodians we are in a position to raise these issues at every level and stand up for the rights of humanity.”

However, a Manchester City Council spokesman said: “The investment that we have seen in Manchester in recent years, from a range of international sources, including UAE-based entities such as the privately-owned investment company Abu Dhabi United Group, has delivered considerable gains for the city and the people who live here.

“Our primary responsibility is to the citizens of Manchester and as part of that responsibility we aim to work constructively with international investors to help create jobs and other opportunities and support regeneration for the benefit of the city’s communities. While we are very much an international city, our position is that ultimately alleged internal issues within the country of origin of private investors are beyond the remit of Manchester City Council.”

Interact: Responses to UAE rights outside council remit

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