NUBSLI raises concerns over decision to host World Congress in UAE

By NUBSLI | Published on 18 July 2023

The National Union of Sign Language Interpreters and Translators (NUBSLI) stands with Deaf Rainbow UK, The British Deaf Association, and other organisations and individuals who have raised serious concerns over the decision for The World Federation of the Deaf’s 2027 World Congress to be held in United Arab Emirates.

NUBSLI appreciates that the WFD Board has withdrawn its recommendation for the UAE to host the event due to questions about inclusiveness, particularly in relation to the inclusion of deaf LGBTQIA+ people and topics, and is currently in dialogue with the UAE delegation regarding the safety and inclusion of all deaf people at the World Congress.

However, despite the Board’s action, the General Assembly’s decision to nonetheless award the hosting of the WFD World Congress to UAE – although permitted by its own statutes – has potential consequences for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ delegates that need to addressed as a matter of urgency.

Whatever the UAE delegation’s assurances might be regarding the welcoming of LGBTQIA+ at the Congress and the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS) camp, the fact remains that LGBTQIA+ lifestyles and behaviour are criminalised in the UAE, so the decision to hold an event in a country where being their authentic selves can result in prosecution contravenes WFD’s vision of “human rights for deaf people…in all aspects of life”, its mission to work “for the realisation of deaf people’s human rights”, its values of respect, diversity and equality – where “all individuals are to be treated similarly regardless of their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture or age” – and its guiding principles, including a human rights based approach where “the WFD develops its activities towards the goal of equalisation of opportunities and full participation in society for deaf individuals in every country”.

In its own statement on the General Assembly’s decision, the WFD states that its “philosophy is one of equality, human rights and respect for all people, regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual preference, age and all other differences”, but how can this be the case when Congress delegates are being invited to a country where sexual activity between people of the same sex is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, where trans and gender non-conforming people are regularly arrested on the basis of how they dress and can also be fined and imprisoned, where same-sex public displays of affection are considered an “indecent act” that can carry a prison sentence, and where expression of support for LGBTQIA+ rights is deemed a violation of public morality and decency?

The UAE’s current values and respect for human rights are clearly not in line with those which The WFD claims to hold and is, therefore, an entirely unsuitable host for a WFD Congress event.

NUBSLI calls upon The WFD to rescind its decision to award the 2027 World Congress to UAE and to find a suitable host country that is able to evidence an ability to comply with WFD Guidelines for Congress by demonstrating an intention to cover a variety of topics, including LGBTQIA+ topics, and where the safety and inclusion of all Congress and WFDYS camp attendees can be guaranteed.