Human rights in the United Arab Emirates
|This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the United Arab Emirates
Human rights are legally protected by the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates, which confers equality, liberty, rule of law, presumption of innocence in legal procedures, inviolability of the home, freedom of movement, freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of communication, freedom of religion, freedom of council and association, freedom of occupation, freedom to be elected to office and others onto all citizens, within the limit of the law. The UAE is held to be one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, particularly when compared to its neighbor, Saudi Arabia.
Due to the rapid development of the UAE from a traditional, relatively homogeneous society in the mid-20th century to a modern, multicultural one at the beginning of the 21st century, the concurrent development of legal provisions and the practical enforcement of existing laws has been challenging and, in consequence, problems exist mainly in regard to human rights of non-citizens, who make up around 80% of the population, with main issues including companies' and employers' non-compliance with labor laws, which for some are novel.
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.
The government restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the local media practises self-censorship by avoiding directly criticizing the government. Freedom of association is also curtailed.
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.
Freedom of speech 
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.
Freedom of religion 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs, and the government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some restrictions. The federal Constitution declares that Islam is the official religion of the country. There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.
Migrant and labor rights 
Migrants, particularly migrant workers, make up a majority (approximately 80%) of the resident population of the UAE, and account for 90% of its workforce. They lack rights associated with citizenship and face a variety of restrictions on their rights as workers.
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.
Migrants, mostly of South Asian origin, constitute for 42.5% of the UAE’s workforce and are subject to a range of human rights abuses. Workers typically arrive in debt to recruitment agents from home countries and upon arrival are often made to sign a new contract in English or Arabic which pays them less than had originally been agreed. Visa and travel costs are typically added on to the original debt, and thus within hours of their arrival, workers often find that their debt-repayment time has increased significantly, possibly by years.
- In September 2003 the government was criticised by Human Rights Watch for its inaction in addressing the discrimination against Asian workers in the emirate.
- 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.
- 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.".
- 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. The consulate also reported that 109 Indian blue collar workers committed suicide in the UAE in 2006.
- 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.
- 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.
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 
Life in the UAE
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. 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.
Government action 
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. 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 grueling heat. Illegal visa overstayers were assured amnesty and even repatriated to their home countries on governmental expense.
Labor Law issues 
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.
- JAFZA Labor Law – Applies to the Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone.
- TECOM Labor Law – Applies to all Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone properties: Internet City, Media City, Studio City and International Media Production Zone.
- DIFC Labor Law – Applies to all companies in the Dubai International Financial Center free zone.
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.
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 
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.
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 Eastern Europe. According to the World Sex Guide, a website catering to sex tourists, Russian and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, while Eastern European prostitutes are part of a well organized trans-Oceanic prostitution network. 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.
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. 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. 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.
In 2007, the UAE also took the unprecedented step in establishing a forum of countries, UN agencies, NGOs and governmental bodies. Known as the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), the government’s endowment of $15 million has generated significant cooperation among the union’s participants towards this common goal.
Trafficking of children 
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.
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. 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.
The Ansar Burney Trust, 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".
Victim Support 
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.
The Abduction of Jaweed Al-Ghussein 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012)|
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 Abu Dhabi Security police on the 19th of April 2001. Held for 3 days at the Bateen Police station, Al-Ghusein was denied his insulin, food and legal representation. No charges were made. On April 22 he was escorted under armed guards put forcibly on Yasser Arafat's private jet and accompanied by the elite force 17 and flown to Arish Egypt and then across the borders to Gaza where he was held for 16 months. No legal procedures took place. Orders for his illegal removal were approved by Sheik Hamdan Bin Zayed. President of the Red Crescent UAE Released from captivity in November after International pressure, Al-Ghussein was abducted a second time from the Red Crescent Cairo Egypt while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer by Egyptian National Security and the Palestine National Authority
On January 3, 2002, the United Nations Group 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 Rapporteur on Special 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 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 
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.
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.
See also 
- Human rights in Dubai
- LGBT rights in the United Arab Emirates
- List of human rights articles by country
- Freedom of religion in the United Arab Emirates
- Communications in the United Arab Emirates
- Gulf News - Pakistani TV channels may move out of Dubai Media City
- Gulf News - Geo TV also plans to move out of Dubai
- NDTV.com - Geo TV hints at options outside of Dubai
- Essential Background: Overview of human rights issues in United Arab Emirates (UAE) (Human Rights Watch, 31-12-2005)
- Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates
- Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates - PDF
- Gulf News - New emiratisation drive
- Gulf News - Call for cautious Emiratisation
- Dubai: Migrant Workers at Risk (Human Rights Watch, 19-9-2003)
- "2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – United Arab Emirates". U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2005-02-28. Archived from the original on 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- "Workers' safety queried in Dubai", by Julia Wheeler, BBC News, September 27, 2004
- "Indian government gets report on problems of Indians in UAE", newKerala.com, December 23, 2005
- "Blood, Sweat and Tears". aljazeera.net. Al Jazeera English. 2007-08-15. Archived from the original on 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- "Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Workers", by Ivan Watson, NPR, March 8, 2006
- "Workers Riot at Site of Dubai Skyscraper", by Jim Krane, Breitbart.com, March 22, 2006
- "Striking Workers Released From UAE Jail", by Barbara Surk, The Associated Press, October 31, 2007[dead link]
- UAE to allow construction unions BBC News, March 30, 2006, retrieved April 24, 2006
- TimesOnline, "Growth brings slow progress on human rights," April 15, 2008; http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article3752832.ece
- UAE Federal Labor Law
- TECOM - Labor Law
- DIFC - Laws & Regulations
- Human Rights Watch - VI. UAE Labor Law
- Dubai Labor – Unofficial Expat Resource
- Gulf News - 1,600 workers march from Ajman to Sharjah over unpaid wages
- The Social Affairs Unit - Web Review: Dubai, Dubai - The Scandal and The Vice
- Stoenescu, Dan. "Globalising Prostitution in the Middle East". American Center For International Policy Studies. Archived from the original on 2007-06-05. Retrieved 2007-05-10.
- UAE deports 4,300 women 7days 2007
- FRONTLINE/World - Rough Cut - Dubai: Night Secrets - The oldest profession in the newest playground
- UAE-US Relations; Factsheet on "Initiatives to Combat Human Trafficking" Accessed February 9, 2009: http://www.uae-us.org/page.cfm?id=63
- UAE Ministry of Labour: "The Protection of the Rights of Workers in the United Arab Emirates Annual Report 2007 http://www.uae-us.org/assets/File/The_Protection_of_the_Rights_of_Workers_in_the_UAE_-_Annual_Report_2007.pdf
- UAE-US Relation: Factsheet on "Initiatives to Combat Human Trafficking," Accessed February 9, 2009: http://www.uae-us.org/page.cfm?id=63
- UAE-US Interact, "Mohammed bin Zayed's contribution to anti human trafficking lauded" February 15, 2009: http://www.uaeinteract.com/docs/Mohammed_bin_Zayeds_contribution_to_anti_human_trafficking_lauded/28647.htm
- Anti-Slavery - photo gallery - Child camel jockeys in the UAE
- UAE enforces stringent steps to eradicate child jockeys, Khaleej Times, 24 May 2005
- Ansar Burney Trust - Child Camel Jockeys - Modern Day Slavery
- UAE-US Relations, "Initiatives to Combat Human Trafficking," Accessed February 9, 2009: http://www.uae-us.org/page.cfm?id=63
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
- Ansar Burney Trust
- Situation of Labourers
- Australians for Extradition Justice
- Human Rights Watch reports on the United Arab Emirates
- Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery
- Prevalence, Abuse & Exploitation of Street Children
- Child Prostitution in the UAE
- Human Trafficking Plagues UAE video report by Al Jazeera, July 31, 2009
- UAE Prison
- Human Rights in the UAE
- Sinister Paradise: Does the Road to the Future End at Dubai?
- Censorship in UAE - IFEX