United Arab Emirates

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 2021

The government continued to commit serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees, suppression of freedom of expression, and violation of the right to privacy. The right to health was partially fulfilled. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to deprive stateless individuals of the right to nationality, impacting their access to a range of services. Courts passed death sentences and executions were reported.

Background

In January, the UAE announced it was ending an economic and travel blockade on Qatar, and restored trade links in subsequent months. The UAE continued to be involved as a party to the conflict in Yemen, which saw a range of egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law (see Yemen entry). It also continued its involvement with the conflict in Libya through its support for the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, which committed violations of international humanitarian and human rights law (see Libya entry). Following the previous year’s controversial deal, UAE trade with Israel reached over US$500 million.

Arbitrary detention

The UAE continued to arbitrarily detain Emirati and foreign nationals. In January, authorities transferred the arbitrarily detained Syrian national AbdelRahman al-Nahhass to al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi emirate after holding him incommunicado in pre-trial detention in an unknown location for 13 months. The Office of Public Prosecution and AbdelRahman al-Nahhass’s government-assigned lawyer refused to give the charges in writing to his family.

The UAE continued to hold detainees past completion of their prison terms based on court orders under its “counter-extremism counselling” law which cannot be appealed. Four out of 11 such prisoners were released under Ramadan pardons in April: Faisal Ali al-Shehhi (three years, 11 months after the end of sentence), Ahmed al-Molla (three years, 11 months), Saeed Abdullah al-Buraimi (three years, one month) and Mansoor Hassan al-Ahmedi (one year, five months). The other seven remained in prison, despite having completed their sentence.

Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment continued in prisons. Human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor remained in solitary confinement since 2017 without any bedding other than two thin, dirty blankets and without adequate personal hygiene items. In September, the European Parliament called on the UAE to end Ahmed Mansoor’s cruel and inhuman treatment.

In a rare move, in terms of scale, the authorities arbitrarily detained at least 375 African male and female migrant workers and took them to al-Wathba prison overnight on 24/25 June. They were held incommunicado for up to six weeks in overcrowded cells without enough beds or toilets, and deported without due process or legal representation. Police and guards mistreated at least 18 of these detainees, including with racist insults and forced nudity. Police beat and used tasers against detainees who resisted arrest, and placed leg shackles for a week on women detainees who refused to eat. They were deprived of their property upon deportation, including personal identity documents.

Freedom of expression

The government continued to exercise tight control over expression. At least 26 prisoners remained behind bars because of their peaceful political criticism.

The government website on “Enforcement of law to contain the spread of Covid-19” continued to warn that publishing “rumours”, “fake news”, or “false” or “misleading health-related information” was punishable by law.

In June, the government announced that regulation of the media would be partially transferred from the National Media Council to a new agency, the Media Regulatory Office under the Ministry of Culture and Youth. When NGOs and journalists reported the arbitrary detention of hundreds of African nationals (see above), the Ministry of Interior called on the media “not to circulate or disseminate any information not published by the relevant authorities”.

In April, the government sentenced prisoners Maryam al-Balushi and Amina al-Abdouli to three more years in prison for “publishing information that disturbs the public order”, after they had released voice recordings of their grievances about prison conditions.

Right to privacy

In July, UAE was revealed as one of 11 countries that were clients of NSO Group, a company specializing in cyber surveillance. Amnesty International, as part of the Pegasus Project carried out cutting-edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of Pegasus spyware.1 It found that Pegasus had been used to compromise the phone of David Haigh, a UK national in contact with Sheikha Latifa, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler, who was captured at sea by Indian and Emirati commandos when she tried to flee the UAE in March 2018.

In May, the UK High Court of Justice’s Family Division found that the Emirati prime minister had ordered NSO Group hacking of the devices of his ex-wife and her two lawyers in the UK. In September, the research organization Citizen Lab confirmed that NSO Group’s spyware was used against Emirati dissident Alaa al-Siddiq, who died in a car crash in the UK in June.

Right to health

The UAE offered an extensive roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in 2021, available free of charge to Emiratis and migrants with valid Emirati IDs. However, until June, those with expired identity documents were ineligible, denying migrants with expired visas and stateless people access to vaccines. In June, the government extended eligibility for free vaccination to everyone, including those with expired documents.

Discrimination

The estimated 20,000-100,000 stateless people born in the UAE but denied nationality continued to be deprived of equal access to rights covered for Emirati citizens at state expense, such as comprehensive healthcare, housing and higher education, as well as jobs in the public sector. Stateless individuals only became eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in June – six months after the beginning of the campaign roll-out.

Failure to tackle climate crisis

The UAE lobbied for a rollback of oil production cuts agreed between global oil producers during the pandemic, aiming to recapture market share that it had lost due to reduced petroleum use in 2020. Such expansion of production runs contrary to the conclusion of UN-sponsored research that countries need to steadily cut oil production to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which the UAE is a party.

Sexual and reproductive rights

2021 was the first year in which Article 356 of the Penal Code did not criminalize consensual sexual acts. However, vague language criminalizing “scandalous act[s] offending modesty” remained under Article 358. Unlike the previous year, there were no documented prosecutions of consensual sexual acts in 2021.

Death penalty

Courts continued to issue new death sentences, primarily against foreign nationals for violent crimes. New executions were reported.


  1. Forensic Methodology Report: How to Catch NSO Group’s Pegasus (Index: DOC 10/4487/2021), 18 July