September 30, 2021

Jeff Zucker, President, CNN Worldwide & Chairman, WarnerMedia News and Sports
David Vigilante, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for CNN and Warner Media News and Sports
Rani R. Raad President, CNN Worldwide Commercial
Calvin Sims, Executive Vice President of Standards and Practices, CNN Worldwide
Mike McCarthy, Executive Vice President and General Manager, CNN International
Allison Gollust, Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer, CNN Worldwide
Brad Ferrer, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, WarnerMedia News and Sports
Becky Anderson, Host of Connect the World with Becky Anderson & Managing Editor of CNN Abu Dhabi
Richard Quest, Host of Quest Means Business
Max Foster, Host of CNN Talk
Christiane Amanpour, Host of Amanpour

Dear CNN and WarnerMedia Executives, Producers, and Anchors,

CNN Center © Matthew Paulson, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

We write to you as a coalition of organizations deeply troubled to learn that CNN will be an official broadcaster for “Expo 2020 Dubai,” a six-month event that begins this October.  By serving as an “official broadcaster,” you risk lending legitimacy to the propaganda efforts of a monarchy with a horrifying record with regards to legal discrimination against women and violations of women’s rights.  The lead organizer of the UAE Dubai Expo, Expo Commissioner-General Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, has been accused of sexual assault, and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has been personally involved in the kidnapping and detention of his own adult daughters.  Not only that, but UAE military interventions in Yemen have contributed to the deaths of thousands of Yemeni women, with millions more Yemeni women facing malnourishment and lack of access to basic reproductive health care as a result.

We urge CNN to 1) reveal the financial and contractual terms of your relationship with the UAE monarchy and the “Expo 2020 Dubai,” 2) reveal all financial and contractual terms for your “Dubai Now” promotional content, and 3) commit, in your coverage of the Expo, to reporting on the UAE’s terrible human rights violations and their use of events like the “Expo 2020 Dubai” for propaganda purposes.  If CNN will not meet these requests, we call on you to withdraw as an official broadcaster for the UAE Dubai Expo immediately.

We urge CNN to be fully transparent to the public regarding your financial and contractual relationships with UAE’s monarchy and to demonstrate a commitment to women’s rights and equality by reporting on the UAE’s record of discrimination and violations of women’s rights in your coverage of the UAE’s Expo 2020 Dubai. These violations include the kidnapping and hostage-taking of Saudi and Emirati women and women’s rights activists, sexual assault of British national Caitlin McNamara without the accused perpetrator being investigated or held accountable, systemic discrimination against women, exploitation of women migrant workers, sex trafficking and sexual slavery, and war crimes that have impacted the lives of women and their communities in Yemen.

CNN must commit to covering the following women’s rights issues in the UAE as part of any coverage of Expo 2020 Dubai: 

—  UAE rulers’ failure to investigate and prosecute UAE Dubai Expo Commissioner-General Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, who has been accused of sexually assaulting British national  Caitlin McNamara: Sheikh Nahyan, who is a UAE government minister, faces documented accusations of sexual assault and entrapment of McNamara while she was working in his so-called “Ministry of Tolerance.”

UAE rulers’ failure to immediately and unconditionally free UAE princesses Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa: Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and all involved parties must be investigated and held accountable for repeatedly abducting and holding captive Maktoum’s adult daughters, and for Maktoum’s campaign of threats and intimidation against his former wife, Princess Haya, who fled from Dubai and was granted refuge in the UK.

—  UAE rulers’ horrific decision to extradite women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to Saudi Arabia, where she was imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted in Saudi Arabia’s broken courts. 

—  UAE rulers’ detention of women for criticizing the UAE regime, as well as the medical neglect and torture of other detainees in the UAE such as Maryam AlBalushi, Amina AlAlabdouli and Ali Abdulnour.

—  UAE’s discriminatory kafala foreign labor system, as well as the “thousands of migrant workers” trapped in the UAE with stateless children: UAE must abolish the kafala system which facilitates human trafficking and other abuses against vulnerable foreign workers and abolish archaic laws that discriminate against women, including the criminalization of sex outside of marriage, which can lead to the imprisonment of single mothers.

—  UAE’s male guardianship laws and other laws which discriminate against and endanger women: UAE’s male guardianship laws continue to grant UAE men control of and ownership over adult female family members, including requiring male guardian permission to marry. Laws in the UAE still permit marital rape, complicate divorces for women, discriminate against women in terms of passing citizenship to their spouses as well as children, and fail to hold perpetrators of abuse and violence accountable.

—  UAE’s crisis of human trafficking and sexual slavery: Dubai has been referred to as a major center of human trafficking and sexual slavery.  UAE authorities must make serious efforts to end trafficking and sexual slavery, including holding perpetrators accountable and protecting rather than punishing women who reporting sexual trafficking to authorities.

Please find below additional information on each of the above areas of concern:

UAE Dubai Expo Organizer Sheikh Nahyan Faces Accusations of sexual assault: As reported in The Guardian, in 2019, Caitlin McNamara was summoned by UAE official Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak AlNayhan for a meeting. McNamara worked for the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance at the time, and was led to believe the meeting was work related. Sheikh Nayhan’s official chauffeur picked her up and took her through security to his personal villa. McNamara stated: “I was repeatedly and increasingly violently assaulted. The violence wasn’t just physical. I was trapped, reliant on his driver to get me through the checkpoints that led back to safety.” She explained Sheikh Nahyan’s abuse of his power over her to end her job, her accommodations and her exit visa out of the country. McNamara has struggled to get justice, as lawyers informed her that no individual can file a case in UAE’s courts against a member of the royal family and government minister and expect consideration in an independent and impartial manner. McNamara reported feeling that her rape was just seen as “collateral damage” for the international companies and organizations that continued to pursue contracts and deals with Sheikh Nayhan.

UAE rulers’ international kidnapping and intimidation campaigns: In March of 2020, a court of the United Kingdom ruled that UAE’s Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, organized the illegal kidnapping and forcible return of two of his adult daughters on three occasions back to Dubai, and was guilty of intimidating and harassing his former wife, who was granted refuge with their child in the UK. The judge stated “with respect to both Shamsa and Latifa… following their return to the custody of the father’s family they have been deprived of their liberty.” Sheikha Shamsa has not been seen in public since her attempted escape in 2000. Latifa was allegedly seen in a Madrid airport photo, after a video had been leaked revealing that she was being held hostage by her father in Dubai.  More recently, the FreeLatifa campaign announced its closing after meeting with Latifa in Iceland. The terms of Latifa’s capacity to travel are unknown, and her father, Dubai’s ruler, still has not been held accountable for Shamsa or Latifa’s kidnapping, or Shamsa’s continued disappearance.

UAE persecution of women’s rights activists and detainees: In March of 2018, the UAE unlawfully and forcibly returned Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to Saudi Arabia, where she was later detained, tortured and charged with terrorism for her women’s rights activism. In 2019, the UN and human rights groups called on UAE authorities to release Alia Abdulnoor and Maryam AlBalushi. Pleas were ignored, and Abdulnoor died while in custody. Her family reported that she had been forced by authorities to sign a document refusing treatment for cancer.  Maryam AlBalushi leaked messages from a UAE prison about being subject to severe torture and harassment and in March of 2020, AlBalushi attempted suicide. She was later held in prolonged solitary confinement and struck with additional charges of “damaging the UAE’s reputation” for contacting international organizations pleading for help.

UAE’s need for dramatic women’s rights reforms: The UAE is in dire need of comprehensive women’s rights reforms. These reforms must include an end to systemic discrimination against women, including with respect to divorce, child custody, and inheritance.  The UAE’s male male guardianship system must be fully abolished. Laws must formally criminalize marital rape and physical discipline of female family members. The law must decriminalize extramarital sex, and UAE authorities must stop imprisoning victims of rape. Perpetrators of sexual assault or violence against women must be held accountable. Finally, UAE authorities must work to immediately close legal loopholes which currently allow reduced sentences for men who murder female family members.

UAE’s need for migrant labor reforms: The UAE must abolish its Kafala labor sponsorship system, which traps foreign and migrant workers, including domestic workers who are primarily women, with abusive employers and also facilitates human trafficking and sexual slavery in Dubai. According to a report on the UAE published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “the kafala system continues to give employers a high degree of control over workers, thereby increasing workers’ vulnerability to trafficking, forced labor, and other exploitation.” The report describes “expanding demand for trafficked migrants” and states that “workers inevitably fall into situations of debt bondage and find themselves compelled to accept the terms and conditions imposed on them.” UAE’s discriminatory laws require imprisonment for women who give birth to children out of wedlock, which has entrapped thousands of migrant women who have children that were born outside of marriage during their time in the UAE. In addition to entrapping mothers, this discriminatory law often renders these children stateless and unable to register for identity documents or receive basic services. 

Human trafficking and sexual slavery in the UAE: Authorities must investigate and prosecute all human traffickers and work to shut down all establishments where sexual exploitation and sexual slavery occur. Authorities must work to establish protection centers for all victims, regardless of their identification status and ensure victims are not jailed or charged for prostitution, absconding from their employers, or having sex outside of marriage.

UAE’s war in Yemen and the devastating consequences for women: The Saudi/UAE-led war on Yemen has caused widespread economic collapse and food insecurity, and past reports have indicated that 85,000 children have died of starvation, and that two million children under five and 1.1 million pregnant women and new mothers have been acutely malnourished. Airstrikes and the blockade have devastated the country’s healthcare system, and approximately six million women of childbearing age now lack access to basic reproductive health care. The devastation of the country’s education system as exacerbated by the war has contributed to a reversal in decades of progress in gender equality, with 36% of the Yemen’s girls now unable to attend school. The UAE must immediately end its war on Yemen and provide funds for humanitarian aid and reconstruction.


Women in the UAE are still treated as subordinate to men under the law, in the household, in governance, and in the workforce. They continue to be punished for being victims of violence, rape, human trafficking, and sexual slavery while perpetrators face little consequence. Alleged and documented perpetrators of violence against women include major government officials, such as the current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum. 

We urge you to accurately report on the UAE’s vast violations of women’s rights and human rights in your coverage of Expo 2020 Dubai.  We also call on CNN to demonstrate full transparency to the public regarding your financial and contractual relationships with UAE’s monarchy. If CNN cannot make these commitments, then you must withdraw immediately as an official broadcaster of the Expo.


Freedom Forward 

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)


Just Foreign Policy

MENA Rights Group

Project Break the Cycle

World BEYOND War

Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation