A cross-party group can apply sanctions to stop further human rights abuses in the Gulf

Ben Keith & Rhys Davies. Published in The Times on 18 November 2021.

To prevent the complete breakdown of international law, the UK government must look to target human rights abusers and corrupt regimes directly.

One of the weapons in the legal arsenal available to them is the use of individual sanctions. The new all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, chaired by two MPs, Sir Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Bryant, has been launched to bring focus to the process of using sanctions to target high-profile individuals responsible for abuse.

The essential dichotomy of international law is its reliance on political will. The UK government seeks to do business with many regimes with horrific human rights abuses, but the use of sanctions is against individuals and can cut the gordian knot to allow individuals to be targeted without the UK having completely to stop doing business.

It is a solution that presents an opportunity for change through continued pressure and it is to be hoped that the all-party group will be able to highlight specific instances of abuse in individual cases.

In particular, the Foriegn Office should sanction high profile individuals from the United Arab Emirates who are responsible for the unlawful detention and torture.

The UAE has a long history of human rights abuses committed against foreigners and those who come into conflict with the ruling elite will often have their business seized under pretence of legal proceedings and then serve long prison sentences in concocted criminal trials. The UAE has an unenviable record on human rights abuse and the Foreign Office often turns a blind eye to the abuses suffered by UK individuals in that country.

The recent cross-party fact-finding panel report by the MPs Sir Peter Bottomley and Debbie Abrahams and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC on the mistreatment of British women in the UAE brought together the stories of the victims of abuse. The panel was particularly concerned about the lack of support and action by the Foreign Office.

The report encourages ministers to take this matter seriously and learn from high-profile cases of not just British nationals, but also Emirati women who have suffered discrimination and injustice at the hands of UAE authorities.

The panel heard from a detained woman’s father that the Foreign Office is essentially proving itself in its actions or inactions to be complicit because its actions or inactions help the UAE authorities to “trample over UK citizens’ human rights”.

It is with this background and context that it is hoped that the all-party group will be able to put pressure on UAE individuals as well as the Foreign Office to stop further human rights abuses in the Gulf.

Ben Keith is a leading barrister specialising in Extradition and International Crime, as well as dealing with Immigration, Serious Fraud, and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. Ben is a Deputy Judge of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber).

He is ranked in Chambers and Partners as a band 1 leader in the field of Extradition at the London Bar and in the Legal 500 as a Tier 1 leading individual in international crime and extradition.