Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump Contribute to Human Rights Abuses in UAE by Lobbying for U.S. Military Support to the Country's Repressive Government
(Washington D.C., April 4, 2023) – Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an agent for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and her firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP (Akin Gump), are contributing to, and benefiting from, human rights abuses in the UAE by lobbying for military support for its repressive, authoritarian government, omitting material information about its deplorable record, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) in a new profile published today. DAWN urges members of Congress to publicly pledge not to meet with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – or any other lobbyist representing abusive governments in the Middle East – to act urgently to ban their access to U.S. government officials and to ban U.S. officials from working for foreign governments after they leave office.
"Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump are whitewashing the UAE's grossly abusive record, breaching their own human rights responsibilities under human rights law, to persuade our government to keep arming the UAE's reckless, belligerent dictators," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. "Lawmakers should hold Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump accountable for their dirty work and refuse to meet with them or listen to their propaganda."
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former U.S. Representative for Florida's 27th congressional district, is currently a lobbyist for Akin Gump, where she works as a foreign agent representing the interests of the UAE government. The UAE government hired Akin Gump to represent it in its dealings with the United States, seeking to secure military assistance despite widespread and systematic human rights abuses. Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump continue to press the United States for military assistance to the UAE government, despite its ongoing human rights violations.
According to their FARA filings, Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump work for the UAE has included hundreds of meetings, phone calls, and emails with US government officials to lobby for "UAE arms sales," "UAE weapons package," "pending arms sale," and "relationship building, and monitoring, compiling information, and analyzing the potential and legal ramifications of the legislation." Their lobbying also includes conveying the UAE viewpoint about the war in Yemen, Iran, US-UAE military cooperation, and UAE-related legislation. Such legislation includes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which determines US defense policies and spending. They also "monitored and informed the Embassy about Congressional hearings and other events and developments regarding matters of interest." Ros-Lehtinen specifically lobbied for the US government to authorize sales of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE following the signing of the so-called "Abraham Accords" in 2020, calling the UAE a "steadfast ally" and arguing that the US government should "advance" its strategic relationship with the Emirates. There is no information available to indicate that Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump included material information about the UAE's human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, knowledge and information about which would have impeded any arms sales to the country. Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits security assistance, including arms sales, to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.
"Securing access to lawmakers through hired agents like Ros-Lehtinen has been crucial to the UAE government's efforts to whitewash its abusive tactics and obscure the country's ongoing human rights crisis, which include widespread violations of civil liberties and repression of political dissent," said Jon Hoffman, Research Director at DAWN. "It's despicable and shameful that Ros-Lehtinen would use the relationships she has built as a public servant in our democracy to now promote support for a government that is suppressing its people."
In their work for the UAE government, Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump have breached their human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the "UN Guiding Principles"), as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying (the OECD Principles), by contributing to, and benefiting from, the UAE government's human rights and international humanitarian law abuses. Ros-Lehtinen and Akin Gump appear to have provided misleading information to members of Congress and U.S. government officials, omitting material information about the well-documented gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the UAE government, a key consideration for any approval of arms transfers.
"Ros-Lehtinen is effectively giving the UAE government access and influence over the very highest levels of power in the U.S. government," said Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. "This should, at the very least, raise important questions about the dangers of allowing former government officials to trade in their years of public service for paychecks from the world's most repressive regimes."
Under the UN Guiding Principles, businesses have a responsibility to "avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities" as well as "to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts." Lobbying on behalf of governments, agencies, or officials like those in the UAE responsible for grave crimes including torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, and including but not limited to misrepresenting or omitting information about their abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law, and/or obtaining, sustaining or expanding military, political or economic support for them, effectively contributes to, and benefits from their abuses.
In addition, the OECD Principles, a key instrument that provides guidance and ethical principles for the conduct of lobbying activities, recommends that all lobbyists conduct their professional activities with "integrity and honesty," provide truthful and accurate information and avoid conflicts of interest. It would be impossible for lobbyists to provide truthful and accurate information about their client's human rights abuses, as doing so would demonstrate that UAE has failed to meet the human rights standards set forth by Congress as a condition to providing military assistance.
DAWN urges Congress to pass legislation that will bar foreign government lobbyists from gaining access to our government, including the "For the People Act of 2021" (H.R.1/S.1), which will reduce the influence of money in politics, create new ethics rules for federal officials' contact with foreign governments that have committed gross violations of human rights, and implement much-needed reforms to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). DAWN also urged the reintroduction and passage of H.R.8106, the "Fighting Foreign Influence Act," which curbs foreign influence and bars former members of Congress and senior government officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments when their public service ends.
DAWN also urges members of Congress to pledge to refrain from meeting with lobbyists working on behalf of foreign governments where there is credible information implicating the governments in gross violations of human rights or international humanitarian law, and to refrain from lobbying on behalf of, or working for, such foreign governments when they leave public service.
"Our government must act to protect us from the malign influence of foreign government lobbyists who are misleading – if not outright lying to – U.S. elected officials," said Raed Jarrar, Advocacy Director at DAWN. "Congress should act urgently to ban lobbyists from representing abusive governments before their corroding effect on our political system grows any further, and bar elected officials from cashing in on their contacts and going to work for foreign governments when they leave office."
DAWN also made the following recommendations to lobbyings firms to ensure that their work does not violate their human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles and OECD Principles:
- Client Due Diligence: Lobbyists should conduct a due diligence review examining the human rights and humanitarian law record of a government, government agency, or government official they seek to represent and determine the extent to which their representation would contribute to, or benefit from, any of their human rights or humanitarian law abuses, including by misrepresenting or omitting information to the public or U.S. government officials and representatives about their human rights record. It should also make such reviews public.
- Bar Work for Abusive Governments, Agencies, or Officials: Lobbyists should pledge to decline representation of a foreign government, government agency, or government official where there is credible information implicating them in the commission of gross violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.
- Adopt and Pledge to Comply with the OECD Principles for their Lobbying Activities and the UN Guiding Principles: U.S. lobbyists should adopt the OECD Principles, including those aiming to enhance transparency, honesty, and accuracy in information provided by lobbyists to government officials. U.S. lobbyists should also adopt the UN Guiding Principles.
- Assess Human Rights Impact of Lobbying Activities: Lobbyists should regularly assess their existing lobbying activities for foreign governments, agencies, or officials to evaluate whether they contribute to or benefit from adverse human rights impacts, pursuant to the UN Guiding Principles. Where such contributions or benefits exist, lobbyists should take appropriate measures to address them, including, when necessary, terminating an existing lobbying contract. This assessment includes a responsibility to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to lobbying activities, even if the lobbyist has not contributed to those impacts.
Finally, DAWN urges U.S. state bar associations to investigate and suspend from the practice of law any lawyer who communicates false and misleading statements, including material omissions, to lawmakers and the public at large in their capacity as a lobbyist.
DAWN's Lobbyist Hall of Shame will continue to expose American lobbyists—including lawyers and former elected representatives and government officials—who are working as agents for abusive Middle East governments to garner U.S. government support, including military aid, weapons sales, and diplomatic protection.