Human Rights Abuse in UAE
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World Leaders Remain Silent Over Human Rights Violations in the UAE

A Glimpse Into The Human Rights Violations in the UAE

World leaders remain silent over human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A Human Rights Watch world report released in 2022 highlights how the UAE continues to invest in a “soft power” strategy by falsely concealing its nation as progressive, tolerant, and rights-respecting. However, a reality check reveals UAE’s horrendous human rights track record.

  • The UAE violates freedom of expression and privacy rights through the use of arbitrary imprisonment, unlawful international attacks, and detainee abuse.
  • UAE subjects migrant workers to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  • UAE pays migrant workers poorly and subjects them to forced labour and illegal deportation without due process rights.
  • The UAE contributes significantly to the climate change crisis by being one of the world’s top ten oil producers and a top five per capita emitter of greenhouse gases. The UAE lobbied to push back the oil production cuts agreed between global oil producers during the pandemic.
  • Discrimination against women is commonplace.
  • All sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is illegal, carrying a minimum prison sentence of one year.

A glimpse into how the UAE operates highlights a dark reality behind the spectacular skyscrapers, luxury lifestyles, and sunny beaches. The playground for the global rich operates at a high price for human rights.

Arbitrary Imprisonment of Human Rights Defenders

UAE94 Group of Human Rights Defenders

The arbitrary imprisonment of prominent human rights defenders (HRD) showcases the UAE’s strict intolerance of political dissent and freedom of expression. July 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the arrest and arbitrary detention of the UAE94. This is a group of HRD, lawyers, judges, teachers, academics, and students peacefully protesting for political reform in the UAE. UAE wrongfully convicted the UAE94 protesters of “plotting a coup against the government”. As a result, the UAE94 were subject to forced disappearances, torture, and illegal imprisonment. The UAE systematically cracks downs and condemns, online and offline, critical and independent figures who advocate for human rights.

Counter-Extremism Counselling Law

The UAE arbitrarily imprisoned HRD’s Dr Mohammed Al-Roken and Ahmed Mansoor.

Al-Roken is a peaceful human rights activist seeking minimal democratic reforms. UAE authorities have still not released Al-Roken despite finishing his ten-year sentence on July 17th 2022. The UAE continue to hold detainees past the completion of their prison terms under the “counter-extremism counselling” law. This law cannot be appealed. 4/11 prisoners were released under Ramadan pardons during April 2022. However, the other seven remained in prison, despite already completing their sentences.

  1. Faisal Ali al-Shehhi (3 years, 11 months after the end of the sentence),
  2. Ahmed al-Molla (3 years, 11 months),
  3. Saeed Abdullah al-Buraimi (3 years, one month) and
  4. Mansoor Hassan al-Ahmedi (1 year, five months).

The UAE released Mansoor, a prominent Emirati HRD, in April 2022. Regional media outlets published Mansoor’s letter detailing the abuse he was facing in prison. In his prison letter, Mansoor highlights a lack of due process rights and access to a fair trial. Furthermore, the UAE held Mansoor in solitary confinement since his imprisonment in March 2017.

Human Rights Watch reported how the UAE authorities retaliated in response to the letter’s publication. Thus, authorities moved Manssor to a more isolated cell and denied him critical medical care. Mansoor was held incommunicado without basic needs such as a bed and mattress.

UAE Commits Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment Towards Migrant Workers

UAE authorities arbitrarily detained 375 African migrant workers taking them to al-Wathba prison on the 24th and 25th of June 2022. The migrant workers, who came from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Uganda, were illegally deported and unable to challenge the UAE decision. The Reuters Foundation reported that UAE illegally deported Cameroonians despite the ongoing violence in Cameroon.

World Leaders Remain Silent Over Human Rights Abuse in UAE

The United Nations and some of UAE’s strongest allies like the United States, United Kingdom, France and others should publically call for an immediate release of UAE HRD. For example, the US provide logistical and intelligence support to the UAE alongside military and arms support. Thus, their continued ignorance of the ongoing human rights abuse has been highlighted time and time again.

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan embarked on his first official visit to France to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on July 18th 2022. During the visit, they signed a strategic energy deal discussing environmental and technological issues. However, Macron did not discuss UAE’s human rights situation.

This highlights the world leader’s ignorance over the human rights violations in the UAE. Moreover, world leaders should not ignore UAE’s dismal human rights and should call UAE out for its actions. Macron should publicly raise human rights concerns and publicly call for the release of arbitrarily detained HRD.

French president ignores human rights abuses in the UAE during meeting to discuss energy deals.
Caption: French president Macron meets UAE president al-Nahyan during his inaugural state visit to France in July 2022.

UAE Plays Prominent Role in Conflicts Abroad

The UAE plays a prominent role in wars occurring beyond its borders, such as those happening in the Middle East.

Firstly, Saudi and UAE-led coalitions have conducted atrocious military operations in Yemen. This has resulted in horrendous civilian harm and egregious international humanitarian and human rights violations. Since 2019, the UAE has significantly reduced its military presence in Yemen. However, the UAE has built a substantial army of local forces and continues to fuel the conflict.

Secondly, the UAE authorities killed civilians in unlawful air and drone strikes in Lybia while supplying the Libyan Arab Forces (LAF) with weapons and ammunition. The LAF has committed international humanitarian law and human rights violations.

Thirdly, in January 2022, the UAE and Isreal signed a multi-billion dollar free trade agreement. The deal targets more than $10 billion in annual bilateral trade over the next five years. Making this the most significant trade agreement between Israel and any Arab country.

Many have expressed deep anger at the UAE’s support of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Isreal continues to defy international law, engage in reckless airstrikes, and commit war crimes and crimes against humanity on the Palestinians. Isreal intentionally targets medical facilities, schools, and human rights activists while maintaining an illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip.

In 2020, Emirati poet, scholar and diplomat Dhabiya Khamis from UAE was banned by authorities from leaving Dubai International Airport on her way to Cairo. The travel ban was enforced due to her opposition to the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel. Khamis was punished for exercising her freedom of expression, which is strictly limited in the UAE.

Caption: Israeli Prime Minister meets Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in December 2022. Image obtained from CNN.

Mass Surveillance Violates Human Rights in the UAE

The UAE continue to deploy mass surveillance on its citizens, violating numerous human rights laws related to freedom of expression and privacy. Furthermore, the UAE deploy their surveillance capabilities offline through mass facial recognition in public spaces.

Additionally, news reports have demonstrated how UAE authorities exploit Israeli spyware to access journalists, activists, and world leaders’ private communications and encrypted messages.

Discrimination Against Women in the UAE

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concerns over UAE’s continued discrimination against women in their law and practice.

Some provisions of UAE law regulating personal status matters discriminate against women. An example is a law stating how men can unilaterally divorce their wives. However, a woman must apply for a court order to obtain a divorce. Additionally, is that a woman can lose her right to maintenance if she refuses to have sexual relations with her husband without a lawful excuse. Furthermore, UAE’s nationality law provides that children of Emirati men are automatically entitled to UAE citizenship. However, children born to Emirati mothers and foreign fathers do not have this right.

Key Takeaways

World leaders continue to engage in diplomatic relations and trade deals with the UAE despite the authority’s complete disregard for human rights. UAE authorities rely on torture and abuse to consolidate their oppressive regime.

World leaders must address the arbitrary imprisonment of HRD and the offensive military operations by the UAE in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Libya. Unfortunately, this has not stopped world leaders in France, the United States and the United Kingdom from continuing friendly relations and remaining silent over the human rights violations. In addition, UAE’s billion-dollar trade deal with Isreal in January 2022 highlights the nation’s true colours, which are dishonourable, corrupt and immoral.

Furthermore, UAE continues to violate freedom of expression and privacy through its illegal mass surveillance operations. Women are discriminated against in UAE’s law and practice, which must be addressed by organizations such as the United Nations.

International civil society must continue to raise concerns over UAE’s human rights record and call on world leaders to take action against their violations.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

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