Human rights in the United Arab Emirates
|This article is part of a series on the
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. The UAE has one of the strongest human rights records in the region, a fact recognised in November 2012 when the UAE was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term. Much more is required, however, to bring the records up to international levels.
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 locals, 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 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.
- 1 Freedom of speech
- 2 Freedom of religion
- 3 Equality
- 4 Migrant and labour rights
- 5 Human trafficking and prostitution
- 6 Government policies to protect human rights
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
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.
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. This sort of lifestyle is not enjoyed by women in next door 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.
Migrant and labour 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 generally lack rights associated with citizenship and face a variety of restrictions on their rights as workers. 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.
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
Migrants, mostly of South Asian origin, constitute 42.5% of the UAE’s workforce and have reportedly been subject to a range of human rights abuses in the past. 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. Further to this, some categories of workers have allegedly 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.
- 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.
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 summer heat. Illegal visa overstayers were assured amnesty and even repatriated to their home countries at the expense of friends, embassies or charities.
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. 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.  The parody video was shot in areas of Satwa and depicted gangs learning how to fight using simple weapons, including shoes, the aghal, etc.
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 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. 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.
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".
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.
Abduction of Jaweed al-Ghussein
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (February 2014)|
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
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.
- 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
- Emirates Centre for Human Rights
- Emirates 24/7, "UAE has one of strongest human rights records in region", Published Sunday, June 30, 2013
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- Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates
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- UAE deports 4,300 women 7days 2007
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- Anti-Slavery - photo gallery - Child camel jockeys in the UAE
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- 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