Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, has heavily criticised those who argued that human rights concerns should have been raised by the Irish government during its recent trade mission to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This would have been a “token gesture…undermining the missions’ crucial objective of delivering trade and jobs for Ireland, while achieving nothing on human rights”. He wrote condescendingly in his Irish Times opinion piece that:
These people need to get real. To do as they suggest would seriously undermine our basic objective on these missions. Either we are serious about delivering the exports and investment we need to provide employment for our people or we are not.
Rather than present the obvious counter-arguments, this video from ABC News is a stark example of why human rights is and should be of such concern in this context. Smuggled from the UAE, it shows “a member of the country’s royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails”.
The UAE’s Ministry of the Interior has acknowledged that the video shows Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the brother of the UAE’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed. This is a prominent businessman and member of the ruling royal family; Enda Kenny met with members of the royal family on the recent trade mission and has demonstrated considerable eagerness to do business in the UAE. It has been reported that Sheikh Issa was acquitted of torture charges, not because he didn’t do it, but because he was allegedly under the influence of drugs at the time (the US State Department raised its concerns about the verdict). The victim was an Afghan merchant, one of thousands of migrants in the region, many of whom lack basic protections and are vulnerable to serious human rights violations.
If Ireland is serious about its commitment to human rights, not to mention looking out for Irish workers and companies overseas, then ‘getting real’ would surely mean that official torture, abuse and impunity are not brushed under the carpet in the interest of trade diplomacy.