United Arab Emirates
Head of state
Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Head of government
Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Death penalty
7.9 million
Life expectancy
76.5 years
Under-5 mortality
7.4 per 1,000
Adult literacy
90 per cent

Five men were arbitrarily detained and subsequently sentenced to prison terms in connection with criticism of the government and for calling for reforms, then released under a presidential pardon. The authorities replaced the executive boards of four NGOs who joined in a call for direct elections. Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice. Foreign migrant workers, particularly women domestic workers, were inadequately protected against exploitation and abuse by their employers. The government refused to co-operate with UN human rights bodies. Death sentences continued to be imposed and there was at least one execution.


The government acted to head off possible protests prompted by uprisings elsewhere in the region, pledging to provide “dignified living conditions” and announcing large increases in pensions for former members of the armed forces as well as rice and bread subsidies. In February, the government increased the number of people eligible to vote in the second national election for the 20 seats of the 40-member Federal National Council that are elected; the other 20 seats are appointed. In March, over 130 people co-signed a petition to the President and ruling council calling for free elections based on universal suffrage and for the Federal National Council to be given legislative powers. In November, the President promised greater rights to citizens.

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Freedom of expression and association

People who criticized the government or friendly states were liable to arrest.

  • Hassan Mohammed Hassan al-Hammadi, a board member of the Teachers’ Association, was arrested on 4 February and reportedly charged with “disturbing public security” for publicly supporting pro-reform demonstrators in Egypt. He was held at the State Security headquarters in Abu Dhabi, then released on 17 February to await trial, which began in November.
  • Six people associated with the UAE Hewar online discussion forum, which was blocked by the UAE authorities, were arrested in April. One was released after a week, but the others – known as the “UAE 5” – were brought to trial in June on criminal defamation charges relating to articles posted on UAE Hewar. The five – Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist and blogger; Nasser bin Ghaith, a university lecturer and advocate of political reform; and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis – were prisoners of conscience. Initially, their trial was held behind closed doors. Subsequently, international observers, including a lawyer who went to the UAE on behalf of Amnesty International and other international NGOs, were allowed to observe the trial. On 22 November, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Ahmed Mansoor had been arbitrarily detained because of his “peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” and that he faced an unfair trial. It called on the government to release him and provide adequate reparation. On 27 November, however, Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to three years in prison and the other four to two years. All were released the following day under a presidential pardon, although their criminal records remained.

In April, the Ministry of Social Affairs took action against four NGOs that had signed a joint letter earlier that month calling for reforms. The Ministry replaced with government appointees the executive boards of the Jurists’ Association, the Teachers’ Association and two other organizations.

In December, the government stripped six men of their UAE citizenship, citing security concerns and their alleged links to an Islamist group. Some of them had signed the March petition to the President. Another man had reportedly been stripped of his UAE citizenship 10 months earlier for similar reasons.

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Women’s rights

Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice, and to face gender-based violence, including within the family. The government made little or no progress in implementing the CEDAW Committee’s recommendation in early 2010 that it take comprehensive measures to protect women from domestic violence.

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Migrants’ rights

Foreign migrant workers were inadequately protected against exploitation and abuse by their employers. In February, it was reported that migrants who had lost their jobs in the construction industry were stranded in the UAE because their employer had not paid them or still held their passports. Many were living in abject conditions in labour camps.

Foreign women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable; many were reported to work long hours for little pay and to be abused by employers or their sponsors in the UAE. A government report issued in September stated that at least 900 domestic workers who had fled the residences of their sponsors had been detained by the authorities in Dubai in the previous eight months.

In December, the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the UAE’s Labour Law for not permitting trade unions to exist or to function freely; for denying the right to collective bargaining and to strike; and for giving the Labour Minister the power to unilaterally end strikes and force people back to work.

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Death penalty

Death sentences continued to be passed. One execution was known to have been carried out; in February, a man convicted of the rape and murder of a child was executed by firing squad in Dubai. This was believed to be the first execution since 2008.

The death sentences imposed on 17 Indian nationals after they were convicted of murder in 2010 were set aside when they agreed to pay diyah (blood money) to the victim, although failure to agree the amount to be paid meant that they were not released.

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Country Visits

  • Amnesty International delegates visited the UAE in June to conduct research and in September to observe the trial of the “UAE 5”.