Fact Sheet: UAE Human Rights Abuses

Nov 02 2017
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Fact Sheet: UAE Human Rights Abuses

An Overview

  1. War Abroad

The UAE has increasingly become involved, militarily, in regional wars. After engaging in the wars in Iraq and Syria, the UAE joined the Saudi-led assault on Yemen, which has left the Middle East’s poorest nation on the verge of a “famine of Biblical proportions”.

The attack on Yemen, which is supported by the United States and United Kingdom, has killed over 10,000 civilians as well as causing a cholera epidemic and a famine that leaves seven million people on the brink of starvation.


  1. Disappearances at Home

The UAE is known to hold people, including foreign nationals, in detention for months and even years at a time. These ‘disappearances’ are carried out in secret and are unacknowledged by the UAE government. Disappeared people undergo interrogation, and Amnesty International has said that, upon release, some have reported being tortured.

One example of this is Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, who was arrested in August 2015 and held until April 2017. He was then sent to the State Security Chamber (SSC) on charges of peaceful exercise of his freedom of expression and association. Dr Bin Ghaith informed the court that he had been tortured, but an investigation was not ordered by the SSC judge.


  1. Torture/Ill Treatment

According to Amnesty International, state torture is common in the UAE and “committed with impunity”.

To date, there have been no government or SSC investigations ordered in to allegations of torture, which is a violation of the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture.

During 2014 and 2015, six Libyan nationals were arrested in the UAE, and released between March and June 2016 following months of incommunicado detention that included torture in the form of beatings, electric shocks and sleep deprivation.

Human Rights Watch has described “draconian counterterrorism laws” that prevent victims and their families from speaking out.


  1. Unfair Trials

The SSC is notorious for prosecuting individuals based on vaguely-worded charges related to national security.

In the UAE, people are denied their right to effective defence, and the SSC takes evidence that has been obtained by torture.

Amnesty reports that Egyptian national, Mosaab Ahmed ‘Abdel-Aziz Ramadan spent three years in a UAE prison for running a group affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He is alleged to have “confessed” only under the duress of torture following months of enforced disappearance.


  1. Migrant Workers’ Rights

Migrant workers form 90% of the UAE’s private sector workforce. Under the Kafala (sponsorship) system, these workers are denied collective bargaining rights and trade unions are banned in the UAE. Any worker that goes on strike faces deportation and a one-year ban from entering the UAE.

Workers are therefore vulnerable to ill treatment and abuse which includes forced labour and human trafficking. Although some new laws have been recently passed to improve conditions, these laws do not cover the large number of domestic workers, mainly African and Asian women, who remain explicitly excluded from protections.


  1. Restrictions on Free Speech, Expression and Association

Human Rights Watch describes an “intolerance of criticism” on the part of the UAE authorities. The academic mentioned above, Nasser Bin-Ghaith’s “crime” was to Tweet a photo allegedly mocking the Egyptian president.

A Jordanian journalist was similarly prosecuted for criticising Egypt and Israel over their blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Human rights organisations are banned from entering the UAE, blocking much-needed transparency. Speaking with a human rights organisation incurs a penalty of arbitrary detention or imprisonment, while human rights activism in carefully surveilled.