With Visa Free Access…Does the EU reward UAE for Human Rights Violations?

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The United Arab Emirates has been involved in different forms of human rights violations, including violations against its own nationals as well as nationals of other countries. These violations are in contrast violation of the principles of the EU’s commitment to human rights, including the EU Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of The European Union. Examples of these violations include but are not limited to violations against workers, freedom of expression, torture, right to work, right to education, right to life, and right to liberty.

  • Modern Day Slavery

When examining modern day slavery, especially in relation to Libya, the UAE is found to be playing a major role in funding criminal networks. Due to its role in slavery in Libya, a protest took place against the UAE in the UK by activists from African Lives Matter and the International Campaign to Boycott the UAE.[1]

This modern day slavery includes the exploitation of children (sometimes as young as five years old) as camel jockeys; the sexual enslavement of women; and the migrant workers who enslave themselves.[2]

  • Workers’ Rights Violations

Human Rights Watch noted that abuses against workers in the UAE continue to persist, where migrant construction workers serious exploitation. Despite the UAE’s adoption of a law that gives workers some of their human rights for the first-time last year, the provisions of this law are weaker than those provided for workers in other countries.[3]

These violations also include the arrest and deportation of foreign workers after they demanded their rights. A report emerged in 2014 that revealed the deportation of foreign workers after they went on a strike demanding their rights and calling for improving their work conditions in Abu Dhabi, which hosts the campus of New York University and the GuggenheimMuseum sites. “In addition to being barred from conducting strikes or forming unions, foreign workers in the UAE are forced to pay fees of up to a year’s wages to recruiters, surrender their passports to their sponsors, live in overcrowded and substandard housing, and work exceedingly long hours in difficult conditions.”[4]

Migrant workers, who make the vast majority of workers in the UAE, continue to face violations under the Kafala sponsorship system, where they remain at the mercy of their employers. Workers are vulnerable to employers accusing them of “failing to protect their employer’s secrets”, which carry fines of up to USD27,225 or a six-month prison sentence.[5]

According to the Euro-Med for Human Rights Monitor, the UAE’s authorities have deprived some Qatar nationals of their right to work and education in the UAE, following the diplomatic crisis that erupted out between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in 2017, which resulted in human rights violations against Qatari nationals for political reasons and based on the passport they hold.[6]

  • Ill-treatment and forcible deportation of expatriates

The UAE has deported some 50 Syrian families, accusing them of having links with Qatar, following the Gulf diplomatic crisis that broke out in 2017. According to the Euro-Med for Human Rights Monitor, “The UAE has previously, repeatedly and forcibly deported many Syrian families residing on its territory; however, this most recent issuance of deportation of Syrian families has been the largest mass deportation conducted. The UAE security authorities informed Syrian families that they were “unwelcome individuals on Emirati soil” giving them a 24-hour period to leave the country.”[7]

  • Freedom of Expression

A recent report published by Human Rights Watch has revealed a wide range of human rights violations the UAE is involved in at home and abroad. From detaining people who express freedom of expression, such as Ahmed Mansoor. “The government and the many public relations firms it pays try to paint the UAE as a modern, reform-oriented country. This rosy vision will remain fiction so long as the UAE refuses to release the activists, journalists, and critics it has unjustly jailed, like Ahmed Mansoor,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.[8]

A prominent UAE national and academic was jailed for 10 years over a tweet. In March 2017, Dr Nasser bin Ghaithwas convicted at the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. According to Amnesty International, “Dr Nasser bin Ghaith was convicted for “posting false information” about UAE leaders and their policies and “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the State and one of its institutions” based on comments he made on Twitter stating that he had not been given a fair trial in an earlier case known as the “UAE 5”, in which he and four other Emiratis where prosecuted on charges of “publicly insulting” the countries’ leaders over comments posted online. He can appeal the sentence within 30 days, before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.”[9]

  • Torture

These violations by the UAE extended to torture in domestic jails as letters smuggled by detainees there have revealed. Human Rights Watch has obtained 22 statements written by 94 people on trial of alleged attempt to overthrow the government. “I was beaten with a plastic tube all over my body,” one detainee said. “I was tied to a chair and threatened with electrocution if I didn’t talk. I was insulted and humiliated.”[10]

According to Amnesty, “Authorities continued to arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association, using the Penal Code and anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws that criminalized peaceful criticism of state policies or officials.”[11]Some 13 people were arrested or tried for this reason. The government of the UAE announced the creation of the Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes, whose mandate to investigate and prosecute crimes included peaceful expression.[12] Detainees in al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi, including Imran al-Radwan, went on an open-ended hunger strike to protest their ill-treatment and sexual harassment as report by Amnesty International.

The UAE’s continues to hand over death sentences which contradicts the EU’s approach on capital punishment. According to Amnesty International, the UAE continues to hand over death sentences including one which was pronounced on 23 November 2017. Despite calls to abolish capital punishment, the UAE still hands over sentences and refuses to resort to long-term imprisonment as an alternative.[13]

  • War on Yemen

The UAE is a member in the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi forces in Yemen. Human Rights Watch has documented some 87 unlawful attack carried out by the coalition, some of which mount to war crimes, which have claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 civilians.  The UAE has also supported armed groups that have been involved in human rights violations in Southern Yemen. According to HRW, “The UAE operates at least two informal detention facilities in Yemen. Its officials appear to have ordered the continued detention of people held there despite release orders, as well as forcibly disappearing people, and moving high-profile detainees outside the country.” Family members and former detainees have reported cases of torture and forced disappearance in these detention facilities.[14]

  • Women Rights

The UAE continues to discriminate against people based on their sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In August 2017, two nationals from Singapore were deported and fined “for attempting to resemble women.”[15] The UAE’s violations of human rights is not limited to home, but also includes a wide range of violations abroad.

Despite claims by the UAE of respecting women’s rights, a close look at the UAE laws reveals a serious violation of women’s rights. The UAE Personal Status Law gives the husband the right to the “willful obedience” of his wife, where it is the responsibility of wives only to look after the house and raises the children. Being disobedient means in these terms, for example, a woman working without her husband’s approval. Moreover, women only have a right to custody until their children turn 13 and 11, for girls and boys.[16]

  • Arrests of European citizens

Arresting European Citizens in the UAE was reported on several occasions. A Scottish man named Jamie Harron, who was on a visit to Dubai, was arrested for touching a man in a bar, as reported by the New York Times. “The British head of a professional soccer team, David Haigh, was ordered jailed for seven months for a tweet that he says could not have been from him — since he was already in jail without a phone,” the newspaper noted. Speaking of this, Judge Ahmad Saif, head of the Dubai civil court, said in a recent interview with The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi:“Westerners’ culture differs from Arab culture.”[17]

  • Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has been reported in the UAE as well. In June 2017, “a Belgian court convicted in their absence eight women from Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family of trafficking in persons and of the degrading treatment of up to 23 women domestic workers,” as reported by Amnesty International.[18] The court asked the convicts to pay £145,000 fine in long-standing human trafficking case.

This year, Sharjah Prosecution charged the man with human trafficking. The case is involving begging by an Asian national who affected 15 male victims.Over 3,000 distressed Filipinoswere repatriated by the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Philippine Consulate General in Dubai last year – all victims of human traffickers.

[1]Tom Charles, “A note to UAE: African Lives Matter,” the New Arab, 30 January 2018, last accessed on 20 July 2018, link https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2018/1/31/a-note-to-uae-african-lives-matter

[2]Barbara Degorge, “Modern Day Slavery in the United Arab Emirates,” The European Legacy, 2006, 11:6, 657-666, DOI: 10.1080/10848770600918307


[4]Michael Dickison, “Stagnant wages dash hopes of UAE migrants,” Al Jazeera, 12 May 2014, accessed on 20 July 2018, link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/02/stagnant-wages-dash-hopes-uae-migrants-201422414312319248.html.


[6]The Euro-Med for Human Rights Monitor, Letters received by the human rights organization. Geneva, 15 March, 2018.

[7]Euro-Med for Human Rights, “UAE carries out forcible deportation of Syrian families,” Press Release, 15 October 2017, last accessed on 20 July 2018, link https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/2108/UAE-carries-out-forcible-deportation-of-Syrian-families


[8]Human Rights Watch, Ibid.

[9]Amnesty International, “UAE: Prominent academic jailed for 10 years over tweets in outrageous blow to freedom of expression,” 29 March 2017, last accessed on 23 July 2018, link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/uae-prominent-academic-jailed-for-10-years-over-tweets-in-outrageous-blow-to-freedom-of-expression/

[10]Human Rights Watch, “UAE: Reports of Systematic Torture in Jails: Smuggled Notes Detail Serious Abuse in Detention,” Human Rights Watch, 27 June 2017, last accessed on 21 July 2018, link: https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/27/uae-reports-systematic-torture-jails



[13]Amnesty International, Ibid.

[14]Ibid., Human Rights Watch.

[15]Human Rights Watch, “UAE: Stop Policing Gender Expression: Arrest of Singaporeans Sheds Light on Misuse of Law,” Human Rights Watch, New York, published on 7 September 2017, accessed on 18 July 2018, link: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/07/uae-stop-policing-gender-expression

[16]ICFUAE, “Women’s rights in the UAE,” ICFUAE, London, 16 October 2017, last accessed on 21 July 2018, link: http://icfuae.org.uk/issues/women%E2%80%99s-rights-uae-0

[17]Rod Nordland, “Holding Hands, Drinking Wine and Other Ways to Go to Jail in Dubai,” New York Times, New York, 11 November 2018, last accessed on 21 July 2018, link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/11/world/middleeast/dubai-crimes-united-arab-emirates-jail.html

[18]Amnesty International, “United Arab Emirates 2017/2018 Report,” Amnesty International, New York, date of publication unknown, accessed on 18 July 2018, link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/report-united-arab-emirates/

DCT Research Team

DCT Research Team

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