PRESS RELEASE / November 4, 2023

Syrian activists call on the UAE to uninvite Assad from the world cup of climate conferences

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Today as Manchester City kicks off at home against Bournemouth, a video message from award-winning Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab was taken to the Manchester City Etihad football stadium, owned by Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, calling on the UAE to uninvite Assad from climate talks in the UAE later this month.

Waad’s recorded message to Manchester City owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahayyan, was driven around the stadium as fans gathered ahead of the game. She asked the UAE and global leaders to withdraw the invitation to Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad and stop him from attending his first international conference in 12 years, which only helps rehabilitate his brutal regime’s image and greenwash decades of atrocities and human rights violations. 

“The invitation to COP 28, taking place in the UAE, matters because it says to the world, to Assad’s victims and their families, that their sufferings are not important. It sends a message that mass atrocities will go unpunished, overlooked, even tolerated,” said Waad al-Kateab in her message.

The Syria Campaign is working with human rights activists, humanitarians, survivors and others to campaign for Assad to be uninvited from COP and held accountable for crimes against humanity. The group is hoping to garner the support of Manchester City fans and members of the public as it today launches a petition to build pressure on the UAE ahead of the global climate conference later this month.

“This is a regime that for more than 12 years killed peaceful protesters, besieged and bombed cities to the ground, and tortured detainees to death. Assad uses illegal weapons, including chemical weapons, against civilians. For us, he is one of the worst war criminals on the planet,” said al-Kateab. 

“His regime is on trial at the UN’s world court for torture, yet still the UAE and the UN have invited Assad to the world cup of climate conferences later this month, his first international conference for over a decade. How is this possible? I’m asking this club, one of the biggest clubs in the world, to stand up for the people in Syria. I’m asking Manchester City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour, and deputy Prime Minister of UAE, to take a stand against Assad.”

Lubna Albaset, a civil society activist from Suwayda, southwest Syria, where demonstrations against the Syrian regime continue, said: “One million Syrians have been killed by Bashar al-Assad, seven million forcibly displaced people are in neighbouring countries, there are thousands of detainees, thousands of women and children in prisons facing torture. All of these actions were committed by the Syrian regime and it is being invited to attend the climate change conference. This is a shame on humanity and a shame on us as civil society, if we accept it.” 

Many Arab states hope that normalising relations with Assad will make it easier to force refugees to return to Syria and help curb the trade of the highly addictive amphetamine Captagon, but all evidence suggests a more stable Syria under Assad is futile.

In the past month, regime forces have bombed seven hospitals, 13 schools, and killed 66 civilians in northwest Syria. In October, the International Court of Justice opened a case brought by the Netherlands and Canada against the Syrian state for its ongoing use of torture.

“There is no reason to believe that his attendance at COP 28 would persuade the regime to halt its attacks against civilians. Rather the UAE’s invitation only emboldens Assad and provides a green light to continue crimes with impunity,” said Ranim Ahmed of The Syria Campaign.

“Now more than ever, it is vital that governments take a stand against international crimes and hold war criminals accountable. Rather than shaking hands with Assad, governments around the world should stop the normalisation process with this brutal dictatorship and rise to meet their responsibility to uphold the rule of law.”