Human rights in Dubai

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Dubai has approximately 250,000 laborers, mostly South Asian, working on real estate development projects such as the Dubai Marina.

Human rights in Dubai are based on the Constitution and enacted law, which supposedly promise equitable treatment of all people, regardless of race, nationality or social status, per Article 25 of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates. Despite this relative freedom, Freedom House has stated: "Extreme forms of self-censorship are widely practiced, particularly regarding issues such as local politics, culture, religion, or any other subject the government deems politically or culturally sensitive. The Dubai Media Free Zone (DMFZ), an area in which foreign media outlets produce print and broadcast material intended for foreign audiences, is the only arena in which the press operates with relative freedom."[1]

Human rights organizations have complained about violations of human rights in Dubai.[2] Most notably, some of the 250,000 foreign laborers in the city have been alleged to live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being "less than humane."[3][4][5][6] The mistreatment of foreign workers was a subject of the disputed 2009 documentary, Slaves in Dubai.[7]

Foreign workers and Labour rights[edit]

Construction workers from Asia on top floor of the Angsana Tower

Article 25 of the Constitution of the UAE provides for the equitable treatment of persons with regard to race, nationality, religious beliefs or social status. However, in reality there are very few anti-discrimination laws in relation to labour issues, with full UAE locals being given preferential treatment when it comes to employment, even though they generally show minimal interest in working.[8] Foreign laborers in Dubai often live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being "less than humane",[5][6][9] and was the subject of the documentary, Slaves in Dubai.[7] A 2006 NPR report quoted Baya Sayid Mubarak, the Indian consul for labor and welfare in Dubai, as saying "the city's economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid construction workers from the Indian sub-continent". The NPR report stated that foreign construction workers lived "eight and ten to a room in labor camps" and that "many are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt, which amounts to little more than indentured servitude."[10]

Alleged labour injustices in Dubai have attracted the attention of various human rights groups, which have tried to persuade the government to become a signatory to two of the International Labour Organization's eight core conventions, which allows for the formation of labour unions. The Dubai government, however, denied any kind of labour injustices and stated that the watchdog's accusations were misguided.[11] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: "Labourers will be allowed to form unions".[12]

A 2006 NPR report quoted Baya Sayid Mubarak, the Indian consul for labor and welfare in Dubai, as saying "the city's economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid construction workers from the Indian sub-continent". The NPR report alleged that foreign construction workers lived "eight and ten to a room in labor camps", and that "many are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt, which amounts to little more than indentured servitude."[13] The BBC has reported that "local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end. They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed."[14] Additionally, some of the workers have allegedly been forced to give up their passports upon entering Dubai, making it difficult to return home. In September 2005, the Minister of Labour ordered one company to pay unpaid salaries within 24 hours after workers protested, and published the name of the offending company.[15]

In December 2005, the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labor problems faced by Indian expatriates in the emirate. The report highlighted delayed payment of wages, substitution of employment contracts, premature termination of services and excessive working hours as being some of the challenges faced by Indian workers in the city.

On 21 March 2006, workers at the construction site of Burj Khalifa, upset over bus timings and working conditions, rioted, damaging cars, offices, computers, and construction tools.[16][17][18][19] The global financial crisis has caused the working class of Dubai to be affected especially badly, with many workers not being paid but also being unable to leave the country.[20]

The city's discriminatory legal system and unequal treatment of foreigners has been brought to light by its alleged attempts to cover up information on the rape of Alexandre Robert, a 15 year old French-Swiss national, by three locals, one of whose HIV-positive status was hidden by the authorities for several months [21] and by the recent mass imprisonment of migrant laborers, most of whom were from Asia, on account of their protests against poor wages and living conditions.[22] Despite protests by Human Rights Watch and several governments, companies allegedly continue to take the passports of workers and refuse to pay promised salaries. These practices have been labeled as "modern slavery" by some organizations.[23] In 2013, a European national by the name of Marte Dalelv, was arrested and jailed on trumped up charges.

The alleged labour injustices in Dubai - and wider UAE - have attracted the attention of various foreign governments and Human Rights groups, which have tried to persuade the local government to become a signatory to two of the International Labour Organization's 7 core conventions, which allows for the formation of labour unions. The Dubai government has denied any kind of labour injustices and has stated that the watchdog's (Human Rights Watch) accusations were misguided.[24] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: "Labourers will be allowed to form unions."[25]

Religious freedom[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Freedom of religion in the United Arab Emirates.

Islam is the official religion in Dubai. A policy of religious toleration generally allows foreigners to practice their faith in a private residence or they can petition the government for a land grant and permission to build a religious institution to hold religious services, which may be a slow process.[26]

A few Christian Churches and hospitals do exist, along with some facilities for Hindus, Sikhs and Bahá'ís. Non-Muslim groups are generally allowed to meet and advertise their events, but the law prohibits and harshly punishes proselytizing.[26]

Freedom of expression[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Emirates Discussion Forum.

As is the case with religious freedom, Dubai does, in comparison to other nations in the region, extend a degree of toleration for freedom of expression. Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, has made public speeches asserting that Dubai will remain committed to press freedom, international journalists are generally left alone and a new law was enacted that will protect journalists from imprisonment for doing their job.[27] The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates guarantee freedom of opinion, press and expression within the limits of the law.

However, human rights groups have expressed concerns about freedom of expression in Dubai, which is often limited by enacted laws or Ministerial edicts in the name of protecting traditional Islamic morality or the image and reputation of Dubai and its leaders.

In 2007, the Dubai government shut down two Pakistani television channels, Geo News and ARY One. Their entertainment, but not news and political programming, were eventually permitted to broadcast in Dubai.[28]

The Dubai Ministry of Culture and Media banned the exhibition of a play, "Kholkhal", just hours before it was scheduled to be performed at the 8th annual Gulf Theater Festival.[28]

While journalists can no longer be jailed for doing their job, other legal actions can be taken against them. Several members of the Dubai press remain on a government list as being banned from being published within the Emirate. There is also reportedly a degree of self-censorship that occurs, for fear of governmental sanctions, of certain topics that are critical of government policy, the royal family, or may offend traditional Islamic morality.[28]

In July 2013, a video was uploaded onto YouTube, which depicted a local driver hitting an expatriate worker, following a road related incident. Using part of his local head gear, the local driver whips the expatriate and also pushes him around, before other passers-by intervene. A few days later, Dubai Police announced that both the local driver and the person who filmed the video have been arrested. It was also revealed that the local driver was a senior UAE government official.[29] The video once again brings into question the way that lower classes of foreign workers are treated. Police in November 2013 also arrested a US citizen and some UAE citizens, in connection with a YouTube parody video which allegedly portrayed Dubai and its youth in a bad light.[30] The video was shot in areas of Satwa, Dubai and featured gangs learning how to fight each other using simple weapons, including shoes, the aghal, etc. Eventually, the US citizen was released; in a later interview with the BBC, the Sheikh of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad mentioned that his treatment was unfair.[31]

The UAE (as with most areas of the Persian Gulf) has escaped the effects of the Arab Spring, however, there were many Emirati citizens who got into trouble, because they heavily criticised the current leadership and government system.[32][33] There were also foreign nationals who had their residency in the country revoked.[34] Human Rights Watch criticized the forced exile of a UAE activist Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, calling the action an "unlawful expulsion" motivated by the government's desire to stifle dissent.[35] Amnesty International issued a statement that "Ahmed Abdul Khaleq should never have been forced to leave the country and this event sets alarm bells ringing regarding the fate of others held in the UAE in connection with alleged plots against state security"[36]

Women's rights[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Women in the United Arab Emirates.

The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates stipulates equal rights for women in all areas of society, such as legal status, claiming of titles, and access to education. In December 2012, the UAE’s Cabinet made it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their boards of directors. There are four female Ministers in the UAE Federal Cabinet, including the Business Minister and Minister of State.[37]

A growing number of women are in the public and private sector workforce and women are also allowed to serve in the Dubai military. In Dubai women are eligible to vote and hold public office,[38] with the government setting aside certain seats for female representation. Unlike other parts of Arabia or the Middle East, women can socialise with members of the opposite sex and do not need permission from a male guardian for anything.

Rape victims[edit]

The London-based Emirates Center for Human Rights expressed concern over Dubai's criminalization of alleged rape victims.[2] In Dubai, a woman who reports being raped can be sentenced to over a year of time in prison for "engaging in extramarital relations" if it is proven that the allegations were false and the sex was actually consensual[2] The Emirates Center for Human Rights states that "Until laws are reformed, victims of sexual violence in the UAE will continue to suffer," referring to a case in July 2013 in which a 24 year old Norwegian woman reported an alleged rape to the police and received a prison sentence for "perjury, consensual extramarital sex and alcohol consumption" after she admitted lying about the rape.[2][39][40]

LGBT rights[edit]

For more details on this topic, see LGBT rights in the United Arab Emirates.

In keeping with traditional Islamic morality, both Federal and Emirate law prohibit homosexuality and cross-dressing with punishment ranging from long prison sentences, deportation, for foreigners, and the death penalty. No nightclub exists for LGBT explicitly, but spots exist in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with the details spreading only by word-of-mouth. No political organization is allowed to advocate for LGBT rights.

Prostitution[edit]

Prostitution, although illegal, exists in Dubai. Research conducted by the American Center for International Policy Studies (AMCIPS) found that Russian and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, as well as women from other African countries, while Indian prostitutes are part of a well organised trans-Oceanic prostitution network.[41] A 2007 PBS documentary entitled Dubai: Night Secrets reported that prostitution in clubs is tolerated by authorities and many foreign women work there by choice.[41][42]

Zero tolerance drug policy[edit]

Drugs found in urine or blood testing count as "possession" under UAE law. Raymond Bingham, BBC's DJ Grooverider, was sentenced to four years in prison after a pair of jeans in his luggage was found to contain just over 2 grams of marijuana.[43] The Dubai authorities have been known to stop tourists on layovers at the airport and are now using extremely sensitive electronic detection equipment, including urine and blood screening, to search for traces of illegal substances. Keith Brown, a British national, was arrested on September 17, 2007 after authorities claim to have discovered a speck of cannabis on the bottom of one of his shoes. According to an article in the Daily Mail,[44] the alleged illegal substance was smaller than a grain of sugar - weighing approximately .003 grams. He has also been sentenced to four years in prison. Other tourists and residents have been sentenced to execution for selling cannabis.[45] Having said that, there are no reports of anyone being executed in the UAE for solely drug offences, unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia. Another UK citizen, Tracy Wilkinson, was arrested and accused of being a "drugs baroness" in 2005 after authorities found codeine in her blood.[46] Wilkinson has a bad back and received an injection of codeine at a Dubai hospital. She ended up spending two months in a cell where she contracted dysentery, head lice and an infestation of fleas before she was eventually released on bail. German television producer Cat Le-Huy was arrested in January 2008 for possessing a bottle of the over-the-counter hormone sleep aid Melatonin.[47] Authorities claimed that some dirt in Mr. Le-Huy's luggage was hashish. A Vancouver resident named Bert Tatham was arrested at Dubai International Airport returning home from Afghanistan (where he was ironically working with farmers to try to convince them not to grow poppies). The anti-narcotics officer was found to have two dead poppy bulbs and a tiny amount of hashish melted into the seams of one of his trouser pockets.[48] After spending more than 10 months in prison, he was eventually pardoned by U.A.E. President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The 2007 censorship of two Pakistani satellite channels[edit]

On 16 November 2007 Tecom stopped broadcast of two major Pakistani satellite news channels, uplinked from Dubai Media City, which was initially marketed by Tecom under the tagline "Freedom to Create." The Dubai government had ordered Tecom to shut down the popular independent Pakistani news channels Geo News and ARY One World on the demand of Pakistan's military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf. This was implemented by du Samacom disabling their SDI & ASI streams. Later, policy makers in Dubai permitted these channels to air their entertainment programs, but news, current affairs and political analysis were forbidden. Although subsequently the conditions were removed, marked differences have since been observed in their coverage. This incident has had a serious impact on all organizations in the media city with Geo TV and ARY OneWorld considering relocation.[49][50][51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "United Arab Emirates". Freedom of the Press 2012. Freedom House. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d The Associated Press (22 July 2013). "Dubai Pardons Woman at Center of Rape Dispute". New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates
  4. ^ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates - PDF
  5. ^ a b "UAE to allow construction unions". BBC News. 30 March 2006. 
  6. ^ a b "Dubai fire investigation launched". BBC News. 19 January 2007. 
  7. ^ a b "Slaves in Dubai documentary". VICE. 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  8. ^ Emiratisation won't work if people don't want to learn | The National. Thenational.ae (2013-03-18). Retrieved on 2014-01-26.
  9. ^ "Human Rights Watch – Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates". Hrw.org. 11 November 2006. Retrieved 31 July 2009. 
  10. ^ "Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Workers". NPR. March 8, 2006. Retrieved February 16, 2013. 
  11. ^ "UAE to allow construction unions". BBC News. 2006-03-30. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  12. ^ "UAE plans to form labour unions, legalise collective bargaining". Khaleejtimes.com. 2006-03-30. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  13. ^ "Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Workers". NPR. March 8, 2006. Retrieved February 16, 2013. 
  14. ^ Wheeler, Julia (27 September 2004). "Workers' safety queried in Dubai". BBC News. 
  15. ^ Ministry cracks the whip Gulf News, 20 Sep 2005
  16. ^ Labour unrest hampers Burj Dubai work Khaleej Times (AP report), 22 March 2006
  17. ^ "Burj Dubai workers who protested may be sued" Khaleej Times, 24 March 2006
  18. ^ Labour in the UAE Gulf News articles on Labour Law in the UAE, protests, etc
  19. ^ "Burj Dubai strike continues". AMEinfo. 8 November 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  20. ^ "The dark side of Dubai". The Independent (London). 7 April 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2009. 
  21. ^ Cambanis, Thanassis (1 November 2007). "In Rape Case, a French Youth Takes On Dubai". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ Indian workers strike for better deal. Times of India. Times Network. Nov. 2, 2007
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ "UAE to allow construction unions". BBC News. 30 March 2006. Retrieved 24 April 2006. 
  25. ^ "UAE plans to form labour unions, legalise collective bargaining". Times Khaleej Times. 30 March 2006. Web link. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  26. ^ a b [2]
  27. ^ [3]
  28. ^ a b c [4]
  29. ^ http://www.arabianbusiness.com/senior-uae-official-arrested-over-driver-attack-509289.html
  30. ^ http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/crime/2013/December/crime_December24.xml&section=crime
  31. ^ http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/dubai-ruler-speaks-to-bbc-about-uaes-legal-system-syria-and-egypt
  32. ^ http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/government/citizenship-of-6-naturalised-emiratis-revoked-by-president-1.955438
  33. ^ http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/6217
  34. ^ http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/united-arab-emirates
  35. ^ http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-uae-rights-activistbre86f0vp-20120716,0,433526.story
  36. ^ http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/uae-bidun-blogger-forced-leave-country-raising-alarm-after-wave-arbitrary-arrests-2012-07-16
  37. ^ Arabian Business, "UAE hits out at human rights criticisms", Published Tuesday, 30 April 2013
  38. ^ [5]
  39. ^ Mitya Underwood. "International coverage of UAE law: ignorance is no excuse - The National". Thenational.ae. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  40. ^ "Dubai ruler pardons Norwegian woman convicted after she reported rape". CNN.com. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  41. ^ a b Mimi Chakarova. Dubai: Night Secrets, PBS Frontline, 13 September 2007
  42. ^ Deparle, Jason (6 August 2007). "Fearful of Restive Foreign Labor, Dubai Eyes Reforms". The New York Times (Dubai;United Arab Emirates). Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  43. ^ "Radio 1 DJ jailed on drug charge". BBC News. 19 February 2008. 
  44. ^ "Briton jailed for four years in Dubai after customs find cannabis weighing less than a grain of sugar under his shoe". Daily Mail (London). 8 February 2008. 
  45. ^ Briton faces execution after UAE drugs bust, Yahoo News
  46. ^ Gupta, Tanya (1 September 2005). "Bad back led to jail torment". BBC News. 
  47. ^ Rajan, Amol (22 February 2008). "TV executive faces jail in Dubai for barely visible cannabis speck". The Independent (London). 
  48. ^ AOL Canada: Canadian jailed in drug case in Dubai is pardoned by ruler of the emirate
  49. ^ Gulf News - Pakistani TV channels may move out of Dubai Media City
  50. ^ Gulf News - Geo TV also plans to move out of Dubai
  51. ^ NDTV.com - Geo TV hints at options outside of Dubai

External links[edit]