Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

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According to the U.S. Department of State annual report on human rights practices, the UAE is violating a number of fundamental practices. Specifically, the UAE does not have democratically-elected institutions and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. In certain instances, the government of the UAE has abused people in custody and has denied their citizens the right to a speedy trial and access to counsel during official investigations.[1]

Flogging and stoning are legal forms of judicial punishment in the UAE due to Sharia courts. The government restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the local media practises self-censorship by avoiding directly criticizing the government or royal families. Freedom of association and freedom of religion are also curtailed.

Despite being elected to the UN Council, the UAE has not signed most international human-rights and labor-rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Convention against Torture. Journalists from overseas frequently record and document human rights abuses that occur within the UAE.

Sharia law[edit]

Flogging and stoning[edit]

The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's civil and criminal courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[2]

Judicial corporal punishment is a legal form of punishment in UAE due to the Sharia courts. Flogging is used in UAE as a punishment for criminal offences such as adultery, premarital sex and prostitution.[3] In most emirates, floggings of Muslims are frequent with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes.[4][5] Between 2007 and 2013, many people were sentenced to 100 lashes.[6][7][8][9][10][11][3][12] Moreover in 2010 and 2012, several Muslims were sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.[13][14] Under UAE law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes.[15]

Stoning is a legal form of judicial punishment in UAE. In 2006, an expatriate was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.[16] Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.[9][17][18] In May 2014, an Asian housemaid was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi.[19][20][21]

Apostasy[edit]

Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE. UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code - apostasy being one of them.[22] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,[22][23] therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.

Emirati women[edit]

Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to remarry.[24] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[24] In all emirates, it is illegal for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.[25] In the UAE, a marriage union between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man is punishable by law, since it is considered a form of "fornication".[25]

Homosexuality, public affection[edit]

Homosexuality is illegal: the death penalty is one of the punishments for homosexuality. Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years, while article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy.[26] Kissing in public is strictly illegal and can result in deportation, kissing in public is a crime punishable by deportation.[27] Expats in Dubai have been deported for kissing in public.[28][29][30]

Family law[edit]

Sharia law dictates the personal status law, which regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims.[31] Non-Muslim expatriates are liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[31] Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear family disputes, including matters involving divorce, inheritances, child custody, child abuse and guardianship of minors. Sharia courts may also hear appeals of certain criminal cases including rape, robbery, driving under the influence of alcohol and related crimes.[32]

Freedom of speech[edit]

In the UAE, it is not permitted to be critical of the Royal Families or any government officials. Any attempt to also form a union in public and protest against any issue, will be met with severe action.[33]

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.[34][35][36]

The UAE (as with most areas of the Persian Gulf) has escaped most of the effects of the Arab Spring, however, there were many Emirati citizens who were jailed and tortured, because they heavily criticised the current leadership and government system.[37][38] There were also foreign nationals who had their residency in the country revoked.[39] 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.[40] 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"[41]

Freedom of religion[edit]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs, and the government generally respects this right in practice. This is evident by the number of non-Muslim places of worship within the country. However, there were some restrictions, for example, it is an offence to proselyte other religions. The federal Constitution declares that Islam is the official religion of the country and this has been the basis of some rules in the country. There were no reports of societal abuses based on religious belief or practice.

As a general rule, Muslims are not permitted to marry Non-Muslims, such a marriage would be considered invalid.

Women's rights[edit]

UAE has signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Women in the UAE are given the right to travel without a male guardian's permission, the right to education and the right to drive any motor vehicle. It heavily contrasts the one displayed in the nearby country of Saudi Arabia.

In 2013, UAE was widely criticized by human rights organizations and in western media for the prosecution of Marte Dalelv, a Norwegian woman who contacted the Dubai police and reported a man for an alleged rape, but received a prison sentence for perjury, consensual extramarital sex, and alcohol consumption.[42] She was later pardoned.

Migrant and labour rights[edit]

Construction workers at the Burj Dubai

Migrants, particularly migrant workers, make up a majority (approximately 80%) of the resident population of the UAE, and account for 90% of its workforce.[43] They generally lack rights associated with citizenship and face a variety of restrictions on their rights as workers.[44][45] There are reports of undocumented Emirati's who, because of their inability to be recognized as full citizens, receive no government benefits and have no labour rights. These stateless Emiratis—also known as bidun—either migrated to the UAE before independence or were natives who failed to register as citizens.[46]

Emiratis receive favorability in employment via the Emiratisation program forcing companies by law to limit the number of migrant workers in a company. This is done for the purposes of stabilizing the labor market and protecting the rights of this group as a minority in their own country. At the same time, however, due to the welfare benefits of the UAE government, many Emiratis are reluctant to take up low paying jobs especially those in the private sector; private sector employers are also generally more inclined to hire overseas temporary workers as they are cheaper and can be retrenched for various reasons, for example, if they go on strike[47][48][49][50] Most UAE locals also prefer cushy government jobs and consider private sector jobs to be below them.[51] Very few foreigners who have been in the country for more than 50 years, have been awarded full citizenship. The others are treated like recent immigrants.

Migrants, mostly of South Asian origin, constitute 42.5% of the UAE’s workforce[52] and have reportedly been subject to a range of human rights abuses. Workers have sometimes arrived in debt to recruitment agents from home countries and upon arrival were made to sign a new contract in English or Arabic that pays them less than had originally been agreed, although this is illegal under UAE law.[53] Further to this, some categories of workers have had their passports withheld by their employer. This practice, although illegal, is to ensure that workers do not abscond or leave the country on un-permitted trips.[54]

  • In September 2003 the government was criticised by Human Rights Watch for its inaction in addressing the discrimination against Asian workers in the emirate.[55]
  • In 2004 the United States Department of State has cited widespread instances of blue collar labour abuse in the general context of the United Arab Emirates.[56]
  • The BBC reported in September 2004 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. The names of the construction companies concerned are not published in the newspapers for fear of offending the often powerful individuals who own them.".[57]
  • In December 2005 the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labour 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.[58] The consulate also reported that 109 Indian blue collar workers committed suicide in the UAE in 2006.[59]
  • In March 2006 NPR reported that workers "typically live eight to a room, sending home a portion of their salary to their families, whom they don't see for years at a time." Others report that their salary has been withheld to pay back loans, making them little more than indentured servants.[60]
  • In 2007 the falling dollar meant workers were unable to service debts and the incidence of suicides among Indian workers had reportedly been on the increase.[61]
Construction workers from Asia on top floor of the Angsana Tower

Achieving redress with the authorities, namely the Ministry of Labor, is hard for many workers as the majority hails from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and cannot speak either Arabic or English. Also, claims can drag on in the labor courts for months by which time the unpaid laborers have little option other than acceptance of whatever settlement is given.

2006 Workers' riots[edit]

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On 21 March 2006, tensions boiled over at the construction site of the Burj Khalifa as workers upset over low wages and poor working conditions rioted, damaging cars, offices, computers, and construction tools. A Dubai Interior Ministry official said the rioters caused approximately US$1 million in damage. On 22 March most workers returned to the construction site but refused to work. Workers building a new terminal at Dubai International Airport went on strike in sympathy.[62] Another strike took place in October 2007. 4,000 strikers were arrested. Most of them were released some days later and were then deported from Dubai.[63]

Government action[edit]

In the past, the UAE government has denied any kind of labor injustices and has stated that the accusations by Human Rights Watch were misguided.[64] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said, "Laborers will be allowed to form unions."

The strikes and negative media attention provided exposure of this regional problem and in 2008 the UAE government decreed and implemented a "midday break" during summer for construction companies, ensuring laborers were provided several hours to escape the summer heat. Illegal visa overstayers were assured amnesty and even repatriated to their home countries at the expense of friends, embassies or charities.[65]

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 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, although the exact government department is not known.[66] 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 in bad light.[67] The parody video was shot in areas of Satwa and depicted gangs learning how to fight using simple weapons, including shoes, the aghal, etc.

In November of 2013, there was another incident involving an American broadcast professional whom after obtaining a business license from the UAE government, started an Internet music station but his ex Emirati manager used his status and connections to not only block the American website and stream, but to submit a false report to the authorities, have the American citizen arrested, jailed for 10 days, and have his passport taken away for 10 months without ever charging him. The American citizen found a way to escape Dubai and after a perilous journey in August of 2014, safely made it back to the U.S.[citation needed]

Labor Law issues[edit]

The UAE has four main types of Labor laws:

  • Federal Labor Law – Applies to all the seven Emirates and supersedes free zone laws in certain areas.[68]

Labor laws generally favor the employer and are less focused on the rights of employees. The Ministry of Labor is criticized for loosely enforcing these laws, most notably late or no wage or overtime payment for both blue collar and white collar employees.[71][72][73]

Free Zone labor laws are friendlier to employees moving between companies unlike the Federal UAE labor law, which automatically bans employees for a period of six months up to a year for leaving a company before completing one year of employment. These kinds of laws discourage free labor movement, and give employers an unfair advantage in salary negotiations.

Human trafficking and prostitution[edit]

According to the Ansar Burney Trust (ABT), an illegal sex industry thrives in the emirates, where a large number of the workers are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially in Dubai. This complements the tourism and hospitality industry, a major part of Dubai's economy.[74]

Prostitution, though illegal by law, is conspicuously present in the emirate because of an economy that is largely based on tourism and trade. There is a high demand for women from Europe and Asia. According to the World Sex Guide, a website catering to sex tourists, Eastern European and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, while Eastern European prostitutes are part of a well organized trans-Oceanic prostitution network.[75] The Government has been trying to curb prostitution. In March 2007, it was reported that the UAE has deported over 4,300 sex workers mainly from Dubai.[76][77]

Although a progressive country, the UAE government enshrines conservative values in its constitution and therefore has adopted significant measures to combat this regional problem. The government of the UAE has worked with law enforcement officials to build capacity and awareness through holding training workshops and implementing monitoring systems to report human rights violations. Despite this, the system led to registration of only ten human-trafficking related cases in 2007 and half as many penalized convictions.[78] Businesses participating in exploiting women and conducting illegal activities have licenses revoked and operations are forced to close. In 2007, after just one year, the efforts led to prosecution of prostitution cases rose by 30 percent. A year later, an annual report on the UAE’s progress on human trafficking measures was issues and campaigns to raise public awareness of the issue are also planned.[79] Internationally, the UAE has also led various efforts in combating human trafficking, particularly with the main countries of origin. The state has signed numerous bilateral agreements meant to regulate the labor being sent abroad by ensuring transactions are conducted by labor ministries and not profiting recruitment agencies.

Trafficking of children[edit]

Main article: Child camel jockeys

A 2004 HBO documentary accuses UAE citizens of illegally using child jockeys in camel racing, where they are subjected also to physical and sexual abuse. Anti-Slavery International has documented similar allegations.[80]

The practice is officially banned in the UAE since the year 2002. The UAE was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys in the popular local sport of camel-racing when Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs announced the ban on July 29, 2002.[9] Announcing the ban, Sheikh Hamdan made it very clear that "no-one would be permitted to ride camels in camel-races unless they had a minimum weight of 45 kg, and are not less than 15 years old, as stated in their passports." He said a medical committee would examine each candidate to be a jockey to check that the age stated in their passport was correct and that the candidate was medically fit. Sheikh Hamdan said all owners of camel racing stables would be responsible for returning children under 15 to their home countries. He also announced the introduction of a series of penalties for those breaking the new rules. For a first offense, a fine of 20,000 AED was to be imposed. For a second offense, the offender would be banned from participating in camel races for a period of a year, while for third and subsequent offense, terms of imprisonment would be imposed.[9]

The Ansar Burney Trust,[81] which was featured heavily in the HBO documentary, announced that in 2005 the government of the UAE began actively enforcing a ban on child camel jockeys, and that the issue "may finally be resolved".[82]

Victim Support[edit]

Special funds to provide support for victims have been created such as Dubai’s Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children, Abu Dhabi’s Social Support Center, the Abu Dhabi Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking and the UAE Red Crescent Authority. Services offered include counseling, schooling, recreational facilities, psychological support and shelter. Mainly women and children receive assistance and in certain cases are even repatriated to their home countries.[83]

Abduction of Jaweed al-Ghussein[edit]

CEO of the Cordoba Group and elected Chairman of the Palestine National Fund (PNF) by the Palestine National Council (PNC), the late Jaweed al-Ghussein was escorted by the Abu Dhabi security police on the 19th of April 2001. Held for 3 days at the Bateen police station, al-Ghussein was allegedly denied his insulin, food and legal representation. No charges were made. On April 22, he was escorted under armed guards allegedly put forcibly on Yasser Arafat's private jet, and accompanied by the elite force 17 and flown to al-Arish, Egypt, and then across the borders to the Gaza Strip, where he was held for 16 months. No legal procedures took place. Orders for his removal, considered illegal, were approved by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the Red Crescent in the UAE. Released from captivity in November after international pressure, al-Ghussein was allegedly abducted a second time by the Red Crescent in Cairo, Egypt while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer by the Egyptian national security and the Palestinian National Authority.

On January 3, 2002, the United Nations Committee on Arbitrary Detention released their findings and placed al-Ghussein in their highest category of human deprivation, category 1 'were manifestly there was no legal justification' and appointed a Special Rapporteur on Torture. Al Ghussein was released in August 2002 after mounting international pressure led by the late Palestinian leader Haider Abdel Shafi and mediated by Canon Andrew White, Middle East envoy to Lord George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury. The case was raised at the House of Lords by Lord Clive Soley in November 2009 who questioned the apparent lack of rule of law in Abu Dhabi. The government of Abu Dhabi continues to deny the family their rights and have refused to co-operate with international agencies.

Government policies to protect human rights[edit]

The UAE authorities on the federal and local level have instituted a number of mechanisms and policies to improve the protection of human rights. For example, in 2004 the Dubai police opened designated departments in all emirate police stations that are mandated to protect the human rights of both victims and perpetrators of crime.[84]

The "UAE National Human Rights Report", prepared by a committee comprising representatives from various ministries and government institutions, with the participation of representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 4 December 2008 outlines efforts in the field of human rights observance and listed challenges facing the country, such as:

  • Providing more mechanisms to protect human rights, keeping up with national and international developments, and updating laws and systems
  • Meeting the state's expectations with regards to building national capabilities and deepening efforts for education on human rights and basic freedoms through a national plan
  • Striving to regulate the relationship between employers and workers in framework that preserves dignity and rights, and is in harmony with international standards, especially with regards to domestic help
  • Increasing the empowerment of women's role in society, increasing opportunities for involvement in a number of fields based on their skills and abilities
  • Working to confront human trafficking crimes by reviewing the best international practices in the field, working to update and improve the state's legislature in accordance with international standards, working to establish institutions and agencies to confront human trafficking crimes, and working to support the foundations of international cooperation with international organizations and institutions.

The UAE government is currently studying the establishment of a national human rights commission.[85]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]