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Parliamentary Debate - Should the FCDO increase travel warnings to British citizens heading to Dubai

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

MP takes on the FCDO to protect British citizens from further human rights abuses in Dubai

Press Release: Parliamentary Debate: Should the FCDO increase travel warnings to British citizens heading to Dubai: 9th of December 2021

Hannah Bardell, MP of the Scottish National Party has taken up the long overdue task of challenging the Foreign Office to protect and safeguard British citizens against human rights violations, wrongful arrests, human rights violations and torture in the UAE and Gulf region.

A backbench business debate has been scheduled for Thursday the 9th of December where the Livingstone MP will argue “that travel awareness warnings are not apparent or informative enough and need to be improved; and that the processes at the FCDO ought to be improved and standardised”.

“This comes after numerous serious complaints by British nationals who have faced wrongful arrest, lengthy and arbitrary detention, human rights violations, torture and even death in the UAE”, said Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Dubai who has advocated for reform and accountability for almost a decade and a half.

For years, Stirling has accused the UAE of “failing in their duty of care towards British citizens” and “prioritising trade and commerce arrangements over the human rights of citizens”. For over a decade, British citizens have publicly complained that they have felt “abandoned” by their country, that they were offered no assistance even where serious violations have been reported. Citizens who have been famously arrested like Billy Barclay, Jamie Harron, Laleh Shahravesh, Billy Hood and Albert Douglas have criticised the FCDO for clearly caring more about their own diplomatic relations and dinner parties than about citizens.

Stirling told The Sun in 2019 "We are pleased that Laleh will be allowed to return home to be reunited with her daughter Paris, but serious concerns remain regarding the many risks for foreigners in the UAE, as well as the apparent docility of the UK consular staff in the Emirates and the refusal of the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) to update its travel warnings for British citizens to provide them with a more accurate evaluation of the dangers they face in the UAE."

Stirling continued, “We have worked with the US, Australia, Canada and Malaysia to diplomatically help their citizens home but the UK, despite their strong alliance with the UAE, has even tried to sabotage their own citizen’s chances of release and have certainly lacked any kind of initiative to stop these abuses”, added Stirling. “The UAE was never held to account for the death of Lee Bradley Brown in police custody. They refused to share CCTV footage of the cell with British authorities and the Inquest into his death is ongoing in the UK, ten years later. It’s heartbreaking that there has been no closure for his family. I’ll be testifying at the Inquest and hope this leads to change. The fact that the UAE was not held to account has emboldened them to commit further crimes against British citizens.

Albert Douglas, a British grandfather, was beaten by prison guards and is currently scheduled for multiple surgeries to repair his broken bones. The British government has still done nothing to bring Albert home and his family have made multiple complaints to the FCDO for ‘covering up for the Dubai authorities’. Matthew Hedges is still seeking justice for his own torture and multiple detainees have taken legal action in the English courts for their own torture in custody.

“We are grateful to Hannah Bardell, MP, for advocating for this much needed change that will go a long way to protecting British citizens and ensuring the FCDO does not sacrifice citizens for diplomatic and financial reasons. The United Arab Emirates has been relentlessly targeting investment from the UK for decades, spending hundreds of millions on promotion, public relations, lobbying efforts and investment into governmental and private projects. We need to ensure that these efforts do not lead to infringements on the rights of individuals”.

Stirling has helped more than 15,000 individuals since founding Detained in Dubai in 2008. Stirling has called for increased travel warnings and FCDO reform for a number of years.

On the 2nd of July 2021, Baroness Whitaker, Martin Docherty-Hughes, MP and Andy Slaughter, MP wrote to The Rt Hon. Dominic Raab, MP at the FCDO calling for increased travel warnings for British citizens. After a deflecting response on initial advice, they said:

“On the matter of the FCO travel warnings, we reviewed the advice before making the recommendation for amendments. While the current advice outlines the law in relation to bounced cheques and other financially related crimes, it provides no insight into the core issues that result in the unfair detention of British citizens abroad.

In a comprehensive joint letter to the FCDO in July, increased travel warnings for British nationals were proposed. The FCDO sought to avoid calls and Hannah Bardell, MP has now escalated the issue to a debate.

The UAE has been highlighted for unfair trials, forced confessions, lengthy and unfair detentions, human rights violations, torture and even a death in custody. The English courts cite the reasons for denying extradition being “unfair trials, discrimination and the real risk of human rights violations and torture’. This in itself, confirms the lack of due process in Dubai. The fact that a British citizen can be wrongfully accused of a crime, arrested, held without charge for lengthy periods of time, forced to confess and convicted without evidence then subsequently beaten or tortured, should warrant the FCO to issue a severe warning. We urge you and the FCO to include these additional warnings on the website. This, in our belief, will protect the lives and safety of our citizens and encourage the UAE to improve conditions in the future.

We thank you for confirming the UK’s relationship with the UAE and that representations can be made to UAE counterparts in specific cases. We ask if you could confirm your commitment to assist Albert Douglas and engage with your counterparts in the UAE to bring this grandfather home.

Fellow Scottish National Party MP, Brendan O’Hara showed his support for Ms Bradell’s efforts, adding “I fully support endeavours to increase travel warnings to British citizens. The UAE has been relentless with their pursuit of influence in the United Kingdom but this must not come at the expense of individuals and human rights”.

The Scottish MP, Brendan O'Hara. is a long term member of the APPG for human rights in the Gulf.

Detained in Dubai Report:

Detained in Dubai produced a report for parliamentarians discussing the core issues with the FCDO travel warnings and what needs to change. The misperception appears to be that “the UAE is strict so if you obey the laws, you won’t get in trouble”. This is simply not the case.

The current travel warnings imply that mere cultural sensitivity and adherence to the law are sufficient to protect visitors; this is not the case. The majority of our clients were both law-abiding and culturally aware when they found themselves detained.

The legal system in the UAE itself poses the greatest risk to foreigners. Evidentiary standards are non-existent, with accusations alone being treated as proof of wrong-doing (particularly when the accuser is Emirati), forced and false confessions are the primary instrument for ensuring successful prosecution; such confessions are typically obtained via threat, torture, or fabrication.

The European Parliament voted to boycott Dubai’s Expo based on human rights concerns. The United Nations have made a number of findings in torture applications and the British Courts have repeatedly denied extraditions to the UAE based on human rights concerns. Yet, the Foreign Office does not reflect these concerns in their travel advisory to British citizens, putting them at risk of unfair detention and human rights violations. Numerous requests by British courts to inspect the prisons have been declined and no effort has been made by the UAE to persuade the courts that such violations do not occur. Dubai police have never been held to account for any of the reported violations. Rather, the FCDO has turned a blind eye and failed to warn citizens of these risks.

The fact that the UAE has not been held to account for repeated abuses has further emboldened them to continue with these acts and put people’s lives at risk. Circumventing accountability in the death of Lee Bradley Brown is undoubtedly the core reason that prison beatings and abuses against British citizens like Albert Douglas, have continued.

In a letter to Lady Whitaker, Dominic Raab assured her of the strong relationship with the UAE and that Britain had significant influence over human rights but did not reply to requests to apply this “influence” in current cases of mistreatment.

Increasing travel warnings to citizens will highlight these wrongdoings to the UAE and hopefully encourage the country to improve judicial procedures and make it a safer place for British tourists, expats and investors.


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