November 7, 2012 H.R.H.
Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
United Arab Emirates
We, the undersigned, are a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world. We are writing in regard to the United Arab Emirates’ candidacy for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2013 – 2015 term.
In accordance with General Assembly resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, when electing members to the council, member states should take into account (1) the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and (2) their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto. Additionally, members elected to the council should (1) uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, (2) fully cooperate with the council, and (3) be reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism during their term. We believe it is essential that countries that are members of the Human Rights Council adhere to these criteria.
We understand that the UAE is standing unopposed for one of the five vacant Asia-Pacific seats. We would therefore like to draw your attention to key areas where the UAE should swiftly improve the protection and promotion of human rights domestically, in the spirit of the General Assembly’s resolution.
Cease Arbitrary Detentions and Respect the Right to Fair Trial
The arbitrary detention of 63 individuals, who include prominent lawyers, judges, professors, and student leaders, is inconsistent with the UAE’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council. The whereabouts of 61 of the detainees remains unknown. Despite the fact that authorities have not yet formally charged these detainees with any crime, local press has reported that some of the detainees have confessed to being members of a “secret organization” that includes a “military wing” aimed at overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state.
Government authorities have denied the detainees access to legal assistance, and have furthermore harassed and intimidated lawyers who have sought to offer legal representation to the detainees. Irrespective of any alleged offenses, the detainees are entitled to due process and the right to a fair trial under international law.
We therefore call upon relevant UAE authorities to:
- Ensure the due process rights of all detainees.
- Provide a fair trial for all detainees, including by providing access to adequate legal assistance.
- Release from custody any individuals detained solely on the basis of peaceful expression of political views.
Respect the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion
The UAE continues to harass individuals who exercise their right to free expression. In April 2011, authorities arrested five activists, known as the “UAE 5,” accusing them of “publicly insulting” top government officials in an internet forum, and their subsequent trial at the Federal Supreme Court was grossly unfair. The case against them had no basis in international law as it violated their freedom of expression, as does government censorship of the banned internet forum UAE Hewar.
International law is unequivocal on the need for public officials to tolerate greater criticism than ordinary citizens. Although the five activists were released shortly after their November 2011 convictions, when Your Excellency commuted their sentences, authorities have continued to harass them, deporting one of the men, a stateless Bidun, to Thailand in July, and failing to investigate public death threats, a public smear campaign, and two premeditated assaults against another.
We are also concerned about the government’s failure to properly investigate reprisals against human rights defenders, notably Emirati national Ahmed Mansoor, who has been subjected to harassment, assault, and death threats for his activism. In August 2012, UAE authorities cancelled the residence permits for Matt Duffy, an American journalism professor in a UAE university who advocated greater press freedom in the UAE and the region, as well as his wife.
We call on the Emirati government to:
- Repeal provisions of the criminal code and media law that criminalize insults of the President.
- Expunge the criminal records of the “UAE 5.”
- Permit the return to the UAE of political activist Ahmed abd al-Khaleq.
End the Use of Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in Detention
While we welcome the UAE’s accession to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT), we are concerned about the following declaration from the UAE accompanying accession:
“The United Arab Emirates also confirms that the lawful sanctions applicable under national law, or pain or suffering arising from or associated with or incidental to these lawful sanctions, do not fall under the concept of ‘torture’ defined in article 1 of this Convention or under the concept of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment mentioned in this Convention.”
Severe pain or suffering arising from, or associated with, sanctions, and deliberately inflicted–even when provided for by national law–would fall under the concept of torture as defined in article 1 of the CAT. International treaty law does not permit the invocation of national law as a justification for failure to observe treaty obligations, and we therefore urge the UAE to withdraw this declaration.
We also urge the UAE to:
- Ensure a full review of UAE laws to ensure they are compatible with the CAT, including the definition of torture in the criminal code, ensuring that there are no justifications or immunities in law for torture, ensuring that evidence obtained by torture is always excluded, and specifying the duty to investigate and prosecute or extradite any person in UAE territory suspected of committing torture offenses anywhere in the world.
- Withdraw the UAE’s reservation under the terms of article 28, and thereby recognize the competence of the Committee against Torture to investigate reliable reports of torture and carry out state visits where necessary.
Implement Key Recommendations of Treaty Bodies
In 2009 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination requested that the UAE provide information within one year on its follow-up to three key recommendations. These were as follows:
- Strengthen the protection of all foreign labourers through adequate legislation and policies aimed at curbing abuses.
- Finalize and promulgating legislation to protect the labour rights of domestic workers, to prevent abuses and to enable domestic workers to easily file complaints in the case of such abuses.
- Continue its efforts to verify the nationality to the stateless bidun population without discrimination and grant nationality as appropriate and take appropriate measures to ensure their equal access to the labour market.
In 2010, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women requested that the UAE provide information on its follow-up to two key recommendations. These were as follows:
- Enact legislation on violence against women, including domestic violence, to ensure that it is a criminal offence. Strengthen recourse procedures so that all women and girls, including female migrant workers, who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress; provide shelter and rehabilitation to victims; ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished; and undertake nationwide educational and awareness-raising measures.
- Strengthen the legal protection of foreign workers by adopting legislation and policies aimed at preventing abuses.
The UAE government has not supplied either committee with the follow-up information requested, and it has failed to implement the recommendations that the treaty bodies’ view as consistent with the UAE’s assumed treaty obligations.
Migrant Workers’ Rights
The UAE has not adopted amendments to Federal Labour Law No. 8 (UAE labor law) and has yet to implement a new draft labor law from 2007. The UAE has not abolished the kafala system of sponsorship-based employment, it has not recognized the right to freedom of association or collective bargaining, and it has not enshrined the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value.
Where migrant domestic workers’ rights are concerned, the UAE has not implemented a new draft law for domestic workers and certain provisions in the draft law are cause for concern. The new draft law provides for some improvements–one weekly day off, two weeks of paid annual leave, and 15 paid sick days–but it also makes a domestic worker who reveals the “secrets” of her employers liable for prosecution and sanctions of up to six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 dirhams (US$27,000). The draft law also imposes harsh criminal sentences on those who “encourage” a domestic worker to quit her job or offer her shelter. Where the provision of shelters for women is concerned, according to a 2012 report by the US State Department, assistance to victims of trafficking “does not go beyond the services and minimal financial aid provided by…non-governmental shelters.”
In this regard, we call on the UAE to:
- Set out a clear timetable for the abolition of the kafala system.
- Repeal article 231 of the penal code, which makes workers strikes a criminal offence and provides for the imprisonment of offenders.
- Enforce the prohibition of charging recruitment fees to migrant workers with meaningful sanctions.
Rights of Stateless Bidun
According to Refugees International, between 10,000 and 100,000 Bidun live in the UAE. Because of their stateless status, they continue to face severe obstacles in many areas such as access to healthcare and education, and many live in poverty. On July 18, the UAE deported a political activist for the rights of the Bidun to Thailand despite the fact that he was born and raised in the UAE and had never previously left the country.
We therefore call on the UAE government to:
- Adopt a rights-based approach to ending the UAE’s problem of statelessness in accordance with international legal standards. Make public a clear roadmap and timetable for ending statelessness in the UAE.
- Grant nationality to long-term residents with strong claims to nationality, including residents who lack documented ties to other states and whose primary place of residence, familial, economic, and/or social ties are with the UAE.
Freedom of Association
In April 2011, the UAE dissolved the Jurists Association, and in May 2011, dissolved the Teachers’ Association. In March 2012, the UAE closed down national offices of the German think-tank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. Section 16 of the UAE’s 2008 Law on Associations continues to prohibit NGOs and their members from interfering “in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime.” In line with the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) regarding freedom of association, we call upon the UAE to:
- Enhance collaboration and coordination with civil society organizations.
- Cease the closure, disbandment, and harassment of such organizations.
Ratify and Implement Key Human Rights Instruments
UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 calls on members of the Human Rights Council to “uphold the highest standards of human rights.” In addition to those aforementioned recommendations, we call on the government of the UAE to:
- Ratify without delay the core human rights treaties to which it is not yet a party, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED).
- Ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions No. 87 and 98 on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining, respectively, and Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
- Withdraw reservations to articles 2(f), 9, 15(2), 16, and 29(1) to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Cooperation with UN Special Procedures
The resolution establishing the Human Rights Council calls on all council members to fully cooperate with all UN special procedures mandate-holders. In this regard, we call on the UAE to issue without delay a standing invitation to all special procedures of the Human Rights Council. In particular, and in view of credible allegations of torture at State Security facilities, the UAE should issue an immediate invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
We would remind the UAE that a commitment to human rights entails a commitment to take concrete steps, legislative and otherwise, to uphold the principles and standards of human rights law.
- African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
- East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
- Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
 Human Rights Watch, “UAE: Stop Expulsion of Bidun Activist,” July 15, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/15/uae-stop-expulsion-bidun-activist (accessed November 1, 2012).
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