United Arab Emirates

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United Arab Emirates 2023

Authorities continued to unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) failed to meet its commitments on policies to combat climate change. Migrant outdoor workers still lacked adequate protection from extreme summer heat. Authorities continued to arbitrarily detain 26 prisoners of conscience, and denied or severely restricted some prisoners’ communication with their families. Authorities launched a new mass trial of over 80 Emiratis.


In February, the UAE hosted the 2023 International Defence Exhibition & Conference at which states, including Israel, Russia and the USA, gathered to sell weapons.

From 30 November to 12 December, the UAE hosted the 28th annual global Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), referred to as “COP28”, in Dubai. The UAE appointed the head of its Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Sultan Al Jaber, to manage COP28, raising a conflict of interest.

Freedom of expression and assembly

Authorities continued to hold at least 26 prisoners of conscience solely because of their expression of their beliefs.

Throughout the year, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department ran a social media campaign using the slogan, “Your freedom stops at the boundaries of the law.” UAE law imposes a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence for “damag[ing] the reputation or prestige of the President”, as well as life imprisonment for involvement in a demonstration “with the aim of … infringing on public order”.

In April, the Emirati government said there would be “safe spaces where all voices may be heard” at COP28, but took no steps to amend its repressive legislation and policies.

Neither the UNFCCC Secretariat nor the UAE authorities published the Host Country Agreement – the legal framework governing COP28 – making it impossible for activists attending to know what protections existed for actions and comments made in the UN-controlled Blue Zone once they left that area.1 Within the Blue Zone, limits on civil society were unusually restrictive, while outside the Blue Zone, the UAE’s prohibitions and criminalization of any dissent remained in effect, creating an atmosphere of intimidation.2

In May, the federal Office of Public Prosecution warned that anyone using “curse words” about public sector employees, a crime punishable by imprisonment under the Code of Crimes and Punishments, would be subject to prosecution.

Right to a healthy environment

In July, the government announced a revised Nationally Determined Contribution that improved its previous target for reducing its carbon emissions. However, the UAE’s actions and policies remained out of line with its stated commitment to keep climate change within the internationally agreed limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. For instance, ADNOC, one of the world’s largest producers of hydrocarbons, announced plans to aggressively expand its fossil fuel production.3

The UAE remained extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including increased water scarcity and extreme heat. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, extreme wet-bulb temperatures (a broader measure of heat than air temperature) were expected to approach, and possibly exceed, the physiological threshold for human adaptability in the sub-region to which the UAE belongs.

Workers’ rights

Over 85% of people living in the UAE are non-nationals, most of them labourers.

Despite extreme summer heat conditions, the UAE continued to hold the laxest safety standards for outdoor work in the Arab Gulf region. The Emirati government continued to limit its protection measures to a ban on outdoor physical labour of just 2.5 hours per day during the peak three months of summer, even though weather data showed that outdoor workers faced significant health dangers from the heat for at least half the year and for more than 2.5 hours a day.

From October, the UAE required all private sector workers to pay into a national unemployment programme. Many migrants, who comprise the vast majority of the private-sector workforce, therefore became eligible for unemployment benefits. However, domestic workers were excluded from unemployment benefits. The UAE still did not provide the protection of a minimum wage for migrant domestic and private sector workers.

Arbitrary detention

Even though 23 out of 26 prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their human rights had completed their prison sentences by the end of the year, the authorities kept them in prison under a law authorizing indefinite “counter-extremism counselling”.

In May, the authorities asked Jordan to arrest and deport Emirati-Turkish national Khalaf al-Rumaithi to the UAE. Khalaf al-Rumaithi, a victim of the “UAE94” mass trial of 94 defendants in 2012 to 2013, had lived in exile for a decade in Türkiye, which granted him asylum and citizenship. On 7 May, he travelled to Jordan to look for an Arabic school for his son and was arrested on arrival. Ten days later, Jordanian security services deported him while a judicial ruling on the extradition request was pending (see Jordan entry).4 He was imprisoned on arrival and was still held in detention at the end of the year.

On 5 June, State Security officers arrested Mansoor al-Ahmadi, one of only two UAE94 prisoners released in 2021. He remained detained incommunicado at an unknown location until he appeared in court at the new mass trial on 7 December. Previously, he had been held for a year and a half beyond his prison sentence for “counselling”, but was released after authorities recorded him in an unpublished “confession” video.

On 7 December, during COP28, the UAE began a new mass trial of 84 defendants. Among them were human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, including Ahmed Mansoor and Mohamed al-Roken, who had been in prison for years on “terrorism” charges.

Torture and other ill-treatment

For the seventh consecutive year, authorities held Ahmed Mansoor in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement, without adequate access to personal hygiene items and with only two to three visits with immediate family members per year in contravention of the absolute prohibition of torture under international law.

Detainees’ rights

Authorities continued to deny UAE94 prisoners any communication with family members living in exile. From the end of June, authorities stopped all calls with family, even those inside the UAE, for at least 11 UAE94 prisoners. Authorities also severely restricted the communication of seven Lebanese prisoners with their families in Lebanon, with calls sometimes restricted to two minutes.

Death penalty

In March, the Emirati government pardoned Israeli Arab citizen Fidaa Kiwan; she had received a death sentence for drug possession in 2022.

The courts continued to impose death sentences.

  1. “Global: Pledge to allow ‘peaceful assembly’ at COP28 highlights the UAE’s lack of freedoms”, 3 August
  2. “Global: What happened at COP28? Essential need-to-knows”, 14 December
  3. “Climate: UAE state oil company’s expansion plans prove chief executive is unfit to lead COP28 climate talks”, 13 February
  4. “UAE: Authorities must ensure man forcibly deported is safe, afforded fair trial rights”, 18 May