United Arab Emirates 2017/2018

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United Arab Emirates 2017/2018

The authorities continued to arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association, using criminal defamation and anti-terrorism laws to detain, prosecute, convict and imprison government critics and a prominent human rights defender. Scores of people, including prisoners of conscience, who were sentenced following unfair trials remained in prison. Authorities held detainees in conditions that could amount to torture and failed to investigate allegations of torture made in previous years. Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice. Migrant workers remained vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Courts continued to hand down death sentences; there was one execution.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) remained part of the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition engaged in armed conflict in Yemen. Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE trained, funded and supported forces in Yemen, some of which were under its direct report. These forces engaged in arbitrary and illegal detention practices, including in Aden where they perpetrated a campaign of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances (see Yemen entry). The UAE joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in severing ties with Qatar (see Qatar entry).

In September, the UN CERD Committee reiterated its call on the UAE to establish a national human rights institution, in line with the Paris Principles. The authorities rejected or took no action on statements and recommendations from UN human rights bodies, including those issued jointly by special procedures, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In June, a Belgian court convicted in their absence eight women from Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family of trafficking in persons and of the degrading treatment of up to 23 women domestic workers.

Freedoms of expression and association

Authorities continued to arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association, using the Penal Code and anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws that criminalized peaceful criticism of state policies or officials. At least 13 people were arrested or tried on such grounds. In Dubai, two men were arrested for “dressing in a feminine way”, in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

In March, the government announced the creation of the Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes, whose mandate to investigate and prosecute crimes included peaceful expression. In August, authorities in Dubai imposed a one-month suspension of the news website Arabian Business for publication of “false information” regarding unsuccessful real estate projects.

Also in March, leading human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. He had had no access to a lawyer by the end of the year. He was held in solitary confinement and, except for two family visits, in incommunicado detention, in violation of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.

Also in March, the Federal Appeal Court in the capital, Abu Dhabi, upheld the 10-year prison sentence of Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, a prisoner of conscience. He was arbitrarily detained in 2015 and stated during his trial that he had been tortured. In April, he went on hunger strike to protest against not being permitted to see the verdict of the appeal court or meet with his lawyer.

In June, UAE’s Attorney General announced that anyone expressing sympathy with Qatar could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment and fines. In July, Ghanim Abdallah Matar was detained for a video he posted online in which he expressed sympathy towards the people of Qatar.

The Federal Supreme Court upheld the three years’ imprisonment, a fine of Dh500,000 (USD136,135) and deportation sentence against Jordanian journalist and prisoner of conscience Tayseer al-Najjar. He had been detained since December 2015 for Facebook posts deemed “damaging [to] the reputation and prestige of the Emirati state”.

Human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Dr Mohammad al-Roken remained in prison, serving a 10-year sentence imposed after an unfair mass trial in 2013 (known as the “UAE 94” trial). In May, he was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including denial of medical care to detainees, remained common. No independent investigations were carried out into detainees’ allegations of torture.

In May, detainees in al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi, including Imran al-Radwan, undertook a hunger strike to protest against enforced strip searches, alleged sexual harassment and other ill-treatment by prison guards.

Justice system

The authorities refused to release at least five prisoners on completion of their sentence, including Osama al-Najjar, a prisoner of conscience arrested in 2014. Prison authorities at al-Razeen Prison, where those convicted in the UAE 94 case were detained, routinely harassed family members and prevented them from visiting their imprisoned relatives.

Women’s rights

Women remained subject to discrimination in law and in practice, notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody. They were inadequately protected against sexual violence and violence within the family.

Worker’s rights – migrant workers

Migrant workers, who comprised the vast majority of the private workforce, continued to face exploitation and abuse. They remained tied to employers under the kafala sponsorship system and were denied collective bargaining rights. Trade unions remained banned and migrant workers who engaged in strike action faced deportation and a one-year ban on returning to the UAE.

In September, Federal Law No.10 of 2017 came into effect, limiting working hours and providing for weekly leave and 30 days’ paid annual leave as well as the right to retain personal documents. The law appeared to enable employees to end their contract of employment if the employer violated any of its terms, and stipulated that disputes would be adjudicated by specialized tribunals as well as by courts. However, workers remained vulnerable to employers accusing them of overly broad and vague crimes such as “failing to protect their employer’s secrets”, which carry fines of up to Dh100,000 (USD27,225) or a six-month prison sentence.

In September the UN CERD Committee expressed concern over the lack of monitoring and enforcement of measures to protect migrant workers, and over barriers faced by migrant workers in accessing justice, such as their unwillingness to submit complaints for fear of adverse repercussions.

Death penalty

Courts handed down death sentences; one execution was carried out on 23 November.

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