French president urged to raise UAE rights issue

Human Rights Watch says Saadiyat Island worker conditions should be discussed on visit
French president urged to raise UAE rights issue
French President Francois Hollande. (AFP/Getty Images)
By Andy Sambidge
Sun 13 Jan 2013 05:24 PM

President François Hollande of France should publicly and privately convey concerns about human rights conditions in the UAE on his visit later this week, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

Hollande, who will be accompanied by The Louvre Museum’s chairman Henri Loyrette, should seek public guarantees from government officials on working conditions for migrant workers who are building The Louvre Abu Dhabi, it said in a statement.

Hollande is scheduled to arrive for his first official visit to the UAE on January 15.

“Hollande’s first visit to the UAE should not ignore the seriousness of the crackdown on pro-democracy activists and the shameful situation for migrant workers,” said Jean-Marie Fardeau, France director at Human Rights Watch.

“Economic and military interests should not lead France to be quiet on fundamental rights it claims to defend in other parts of the Arab world, in particular in Syria.”

The Louvre museum is to be built on Sadiyaat Island, Abu Dhabi's high-profile tourism project, along with a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and a New York University campus.

However, unlike New York University or the Guggenheim, the Louvre has made no public commitment on workers’ rights, HRW said.

Last September, the US-based rights group said significant challenges remained to meet minimum labour standards for workers on Abu Dhabi's $27bn Saadiyat Island project.

Reacting to a report by independent monitor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), HRW said the concerns highlighted should serve as a "wake-up call" for UAE tourism chiefs.

However, Saadiyat developer, Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), said worker welfare practices had improved and action had been taken to improve problem areas.

The master developer said it was committed to overcoming any challenges in order to "secure an internationally recognised standard of living for workers".

On Sunday, HRW claimed that the UAE had  failed to address the shortcomings in its legal and regulatory framework that facilitate the serious exploitation of migrant workers despite years of criticism.

HRW said that following the announcement that a UAE construction firm will build Le Louvre Abu Dhabi in time for its scheduled opening in 2015, Loyrette needs to press the Emirati authorities for public assurances on key issues.

On October 26, the European Parliament issued a public criticism of the UAE in a resolution in which it expressed “great concern” over the crackdown on its domestic critics.

Fardeau added: “President Hollande needs to seek public assurances from the UAE on the rights of the migrant workers who will build the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s national museum.”

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