Cambridge SU stands firmly in opposition to the University’s proposed partnership with the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE government has a well-documented record of appalling human rights abuses, including extreme gender and sexuality-based discrimination and major infringements on freedom of speech. The Emirati government has also been a senior partner in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, playing a key role in exacerbating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. 130,000 Yemenis have so far died in the conflict, with 2,300 children killed between 2018 and 2020 alone.
The experiences of Universities with existing partnerships in the UAE also raise strong concerns about student and academic safety. Academics from New York University and the University of the Paris-Sorbonne at Abu Dhabi have faced severe restrictions on their academic activities, particularly where their work involves criticism of the UAE regime and suffered discrimination on the basis of their religion. The story of Mathew Hedges, a Durham PhD student who was allegedly held and tortured by UAE authorities because of a critical research project, is especially chilling. In recent weeks, a major new investigation has exposed the UAE’s use of sophisticated Spyware technology to surveil political opponents, journalists, activists and academics, both domestic and international, including Mr Hedges.
These incidents make clear that any partnership with the UAE is fundamentally incompatible with the University’s mission and runs counter to its core values of freedom of thought and expression and freedom from discrimination. Now is the time to demonstrate that these values cannot be bought.
Cambridge SU is committed to representing and protecting students. There is simply no way to keep students safe within the UAE if plans for a joint institute go ahead. Nor can the University ensure conditions of freedom of speech and free academic inquiry within the UAE. To go ahead with this deal would be to place students and staff in unacceptable levels of danger and to provide legitimacy to a regime which, with its every action, runs directly counter to the values we as a University hold dear.
The University’s decision to review its engagement with the UAE is a positive step forward. But they must go much further and publicly reject the proposed partnership.
Students and alumni have the power to ensure this deal never goes ahead. Your team of elected sabbatical officers will continue to fight against the partnership in our roles within the University, but you can also have a huge impact in ensuring it never goes ahead. We urge anyone who shares the concerns we have outlined in this statement to sign and share the Cambridge SU Ethical Affairs Campaign’s petition calling for the University to scrap the deal.
Together, we can ensure the University takes a firm stance against this partnership and reaffirms its commitment to the highest standards of academic freedom and human dignity.