Activists have accused Emirati officials of refusing to address criticism of the UAE’s human rights record and storming out of a UN organised meeting with civil society groups.
Rights groups presented Emirati officials with evidence of alleged abuses happening in the country at the UN Universal Periodical Review (UPR) pre-session in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday.
Each year, 48 UN member states undergo the UPR to assess the human rights situation in each and to allow officials from those countries to set out what, if anything, they will do to address allegations of human rights violations.
The pre-session gives human rights groups and civil society activists a chance to directly address officials about concerns ahead of the UPR session, which for the UAE, will take place next month.
At Wednesday’s meeting, groups including the UK-based International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), Reprieve, and Al-Karama directed their criticisms and recommendations to the UAE’s representative, Ahmed Awad, about human rights in the country.
Allegations made by the groups included the arbitrary arrest of political dissidents, torture of prisoners and restrictions on freedom of speech.
Cases brought up by ICFUAE, include that of British national David Haigh, who alleges torture and false imprisonment by Emirati officials.
The activists said Awad responded with a speech claiming the UAE’s record on human rights was no different to other countries.
When asked by the chair of the meeting to address the specific criticisms made by the rights groups, Awad is said to have called the meeting a “waste of time” and walked out.
The past five years have seen an increase in practices of arbitrary detention, torture, and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in the country
Al Jazeera contacted the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment but at the time of publication it had not received a response.
Joe Odell of ICFUAE, said Awad’s response reaffirmed “the need for reforms in the country”.
He said the UAE official’s response to criticism was: “symptomatic of the UAE’s increasingly dismissive attitude towards international human rights law and yet another example of its failure to engage seriously with UN mechanisms.
“The past five years have seen an increase in practices of arbitrary detention, torture, and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in the country,” he added.
In recent years the UAE has drawn criticism from rights groups for its crackdown on political activists.
In its most recent report on the country, Amnesty International said the UAE was carrying out enforced disappearances, torturing dissidents, and subjecting political detainees to unfair trials, alongside a raft of other abuses.