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Abu Dhabi

Volume 714: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have had discussions with the Government of Abu Dhabi about their commitment to the rule of law.

My Lords, we frequently discuss issues related to the rule of law with the Abu Dhabi Government. The counsellor for law enforcement co-operation in the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi and more than 60 UK police officers work with the Abu Dhabi police to provide practical assistance and support. It is significant that the Abu Dhabi Government have this week asked the UK to partner a project to modernise their judiciary. That demonstrates a commitment to develop this vital area.

I am encouraged by that reply. Does my noble friend share my view that no state can succeed in the modern world without the rule of law? She will be aware of the dreadful case of Sheikh Issa and the torture of one of his employees, and she will be aware of a number of businesspeople whose assets have been seized. I am most familiar with the al-Ghussein case. Is it possible for us to assist countries such as Abu Dhabi, perhaps by setting up a school of law or even an independent commission against corruption, which, frankly, many of these problems stem from?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. Judicial reform and modernisation, which I mentioned in my Answer, is a serious gesture in addressing some of the concerns that he has rightly expressed. This involves partnering the 40 leading judges and counterparts from five other states, including the United States, who are involved in the programme which we will be working on. We welcome that development, which demonstrates an interest in moving things forward. My noble friend raises a very good point: the concept of a United Arab Emirates regional rule-of-law school is an innovative concept, which we should suggest to our UAE counterparts at an official level. I shall do that. I also intend to ask the Foreign Secretary to discuss this matter further with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed when he sees him at the end of the year.

My Lords, following the noble Baroness’s first Answer, will she tell the House whether any ministerial trips to the area are planned?

My Lords, I am afraid that I have no knowledge of any ministerial trips, although, as I said in my previous answer, the Foreign Secretary will meet the Crown Prince in December. That is as far as I can go on that, but I will write to the noble Baroness and say what the case is.

My Lords, perhaps I may put this in a multilateral framework. An adequate rule of law is essential in a global business world for businessmen moving from country to country. Are we working through the OECD, the WTO and others to make sure that the rule of law is strengthened in all member states of those organisations? Recent cases in Russia and China, for example, have been extremely worrying in terms of foreign investment and the treatment of businessmen as they travel around.

I can inform the noble Lord that a corruption conference was held in Qatar on Saturday. My honourable friend was there and I am sure can report back on what took place. The noble Lord is right that such collaboration should and does take place between the OECD, the WTO and other players to ensure that business activities can take place in such a way that issues of concern can be dealt with. One such issue in relation to the Emirates is financial crime, as the Emirates are a hub for finance, banking, shipping and trade, which are subject to substantial and serious problems of transactions, money-laundering and so on.

Does the Minister agree that it is most important that there should be visits of the sort to which she just referred by government Ministers to the Middle East and other parts? Does she also agree that this country should take a lead by showing in its own practices that it is always observant of the rule of law?

The noble and learned Lord makes an important point, which illustrates the importance that we attach to providing as much support as we can for the capacity building that the United Arab Emirates needs to improve the rule of law. Noble Lords will be aware that there are concerns, such as the one that my noble friend raised on the torture tape, but it is important for us to understand that there is progress. We are doing everything that we can to improve the record and I think that the Emirates, too, intend to make every effort to do so.