UN raises concern over human rights in UAE

OHCHR highlights torture of prisoners, discrimination against women and treatment of migrant workers in Gulf state.

UAE flag flies over a boat at Dubai Marina,
The UN has accused the UAE of a series of human rights abuses [Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]

The UN has painted a grim picture of the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising concern over the torture of prisoners, injustice against foreign workers and discrimination of women in the Gulf state.

A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has shed light on the suppression of freedom of expression and the undue influence of executive authorities and security services on the judiciary in the Emirati state. 

The 13-page report was prepared on January 5 and is expected to be presented at the 29th session of the Human Rights Council, which will run from January 15 to 26.

“UAE authorities regularly subject those that violate their restrictions to torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and unfair trial procedures,” the UK-based Emirate Centre for Human Rights, wrote on its Twitter page.


In its report, the UN body expressed regret over the UAE’s failure to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with international standards.

The report argued that the justice system in the UAE is complex and impedes migrant workers and the stateless from bringing their grievances to justice.

On free speech, the UN body cited imprisonment and trials for people who had simply expressed their views or criticised institutions.

The commission also condemned arrests and forced disappearances outside the legal framework and the transfer of people to secret prisons under the pretext of being accused of “terrorism”.

UAE authorities have used torture to force defendants to confess to the charges against them and deprive them of healthcare, the report said.

Activists, women, migrants

Prominent Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor was detained in Abu Dhabi last year and is accused of using social media to “publish false information and rumours” and “promote sectarianism and hatred”.

Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or calls to his family, according to human rights groups. 

OHCHR called for the release of Mansoor, as well online activist Osama Najjar, Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar and academic Nasser bin Ghaith.

After the report’s release, rights campaigners protested outside the UAE embassy in London last week to call for the unconditional release of prisoners of conscience.

“ICFUAE calls upon the Emirati authorities to abide by its obligations under international law and safeguard the rights of those residing within its borders,” said the UK-based group International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates, which organised the peaceful demonstration. 

In its report, the UN body also pointed to the lack of transparency and independence of UAE’s courts, where judges and prosecutors are often influenced by the executive authorities and state security officials.

In the case of women, the committee was concerned that it was still possible for a husband to prohibit his wife from working and to limit her freedom of movement.

The OHCHR urged the UAE to immediately repeal that restriction and review other provisions that impeded women’s free choice of profession and employment.

For migrant workers, the organisation recognised progress was made with the labour law reforms aimed at abolishing the Kafala system. 

The work sponsorship system, known as Kafala in the Gulf, currently requires all foreign workers to obtain their employer’s consent to travel abroad or switch jobs.

However, the UN regretted the abusive work practices, such as confiscating passports, false imprisonment, denied salaries and nonpayment of overtime, that migrant workers face in the country. 

The report warned that children continue to be trafficked into the UAE for sexual exploitation or forced begging and then deported without proper identification. 

Source: Al Jazeera