Geneva, Switzerland – The UK police are actively investigating a group of United Arab Emirates officials for torture and cruel treatment inflicted on several Qatari nationals, a human rights lawyer has said.
The Emiratis may be questioned and arrested if they were to enter the UK under the principle of universal jurisdiction, says Rodney Dixon, a barrister at Temple Garden Chambers representing three Qatari nationals, who were imprisoned and tortured between 2013 and 2015 in Emirati prisons.
“We provided information about 10 suspects. All of them are Emiratis in official positions who were either directly involved in acts of torture or were superiors in charge, who failed to prevent torture to happen under their chain of command,” Dixon told Al Jazeera on Monday.
The three Qatari nationals – Mahmoud al-Jaidah, Hamed al-Hammadi and Yousef al-Mulla – were taken into custody and held without charge by the UAE authorities at different times between 2013 and 2015.
Speaking to the press in Geneva, Mahmoud al-Jaidah, a 56-year-old medical practitioner at Qatar Petroleum, said he was arrested at Dubai airport and held without charge for 27 months between February 2013 and May 2015.
He was held in solitary confinement for seven months, deprived of sleep, beaten up and threatened to be electrocuted, until he was forced to sign a 37-page false confession.
“The torture I was exposed to was unbearable. A man would admit to anything under those conditions. However, I didn’t know what I was signing,” said al-Jaidah, who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression ever since.
Al-Jaidah and the other victims of torture in the UAE prisons reported the same ordeal: arbitrary detention, solitary confinement, torture and forcible confessions extracted either under threat or with the promise of a speedy release.
“This is a recurring pattern in the UAE, which is of grave concern and has been highlighted also by the UN high commissioner for human rights. The commissioner has raised very serious questions about the UAE [judicial] system,” said Dixon.
Toby Cadman, a lawyer specialising in human rights, said victims of torture in the UAE are seeking justice in the UK and other countries because the UAE’s judicial system lacks independence and the procedural safeguards simply do not exist.
“We don’t have the ability to ensure enforcement of these rights in the UAE, which is deeply regrettable,” said Cadman, who represents David Haigh, a British national who was allegedly imprisoned without charge and subjected to brutal forms of torture in UAE prisons for 22 months.
“What we are seeing is a system which is abused by individuals in positions of power and a complete vacuum of accountability. It is the UAE’s responsibility to implement a system whereby there is judicial independence and scrutiny of their criminal justice and their penal system.”
Lawyers and victims say there is a culture of fear for those who fall into the hands of the UAE authorities and are arbitrarily arrested, in many cases for the most ludicrous allegations.
“We call upon the UAE to fundamentally reform their criminal justice system, and upon the UN to conduct a greater detailed assessment of the UAE system through the special procedures and working groups,” Cadman said.
Lawyers also raise concerns about the presence of international judges in Dubai courts [DIFC Courts for example], who lend credibility and legitimacy to a process that they say is used and abused to detain political opponents and individuals who are vulnerable due to their commercial interests, as in the case of Haigh.
Haigh, a former managing director of Leeds United, a leading English football club, flew to Dubai to solve a commercial dispute but, within hours of stepping off the plane, he was arrested and held in a prison for 22 months, during which he was allegedly starved, beaten, electrocuted and raped.
“I was tricked into going to Dubai,” he said.
“I had no idea that what should have been a straightforward business deal would very quickly destroy my life. I now know that the people I was doing business with – people who had direct connections to the UAE government – were complicit in this.”
Haigh was told to sign a confession and settlement agreement if he wanted to be released.
Haigh announced this week the creation of a Swiss-based association to assist other survivors of torture in the UAE and bring the offenders to justice.
He said he was aware of at least 40 cases of torture and arbitrary detention in UAE prisons.
One is that of Lee Bradley Brown, who did not make it and died in custody following allegations he was beaten and tortured by the police while in detention for six days, Haigh said.
“The UAE is safe in the knowledge that there is no real consequence for its actions, and therefore there is no incentive to change. Four years on, I am still fighting for justice for myself from the UAE, even an apology would be a start,” Haigh said.
On Monday the UAE’s human-rights record came under scrutiny at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the UN Universal Period Review.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, announced the creation of a new human rights institution under the Paris Principles this year, but did not provide further information about the initiative.
During the UN Universal Period Review, Gargash denied that arbitrary detentions were taking place in the UAE, adding that a country report on alleged cases of torture was ready and will be submitted to the relevant UN committee.
“The UAE doesn’t hold anyone arbitrarily … the person who is arrested is immediately informed of the accusations and communication with their family and legal advisers is guaranteed at all times,” he said.
The UAE has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 2012, but observers say the country has made little progress in implementing any of the convention’s recommendations.
“The UAE ratification of the convention hasn’t changed anything in practice,” said Francois Membrez, a Swiss human rights lawyer.
“There is a strong obligation under the convention for a country to prosecute all cases of torture, but we have seen there is no prosecution at all despite many cases have been brought to the attention of the UAE judiciary.”
Gerald Staberock, the secretary-general of the World Organisation against Torture, said despite the ratification of the convention and the commitments made by the UAE, the country has not acted upon them.
“These can be said for other Gulf countries, too, which have ratified a number of international human rights treaties,” Staberock said.
“But regrettably, there hasn’t been any practical implementation. That culture has to change.”