The United Arab Emirates is a federal state composed of seven different emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The UAE nationals represent 11.5% of the population consisting of 8.5 million people. The country in recent decades has seen a huge wave of arrests and violations of human rights and freedoms and, despite, international pressures the country persistently mutes the voices of any form of dissent. The authorities are continuously and increasingly, restricting personal freedoms and freedom of speech, press, assembly and association. However, ironically, the UAE signed the Arab Charter on Human Rights on November 2013, which in Article 23 states: “Every citizen shall have the right to seek political asylum in other countries in order to escape persecution“.
However, this voluntary adhesion has no effect on the daily lives of the citizens and the entire civil society. Although the Constitution guarantees these freedoms, the UAE government actively uses the legislative, judicial and executive branches to limit these rights. As a matter of fact, the government surrounded itself by a set of laws and regulations that are purposely designed to restrict freedom of expression for citizens and block access to any source of independent information. In 2012, the UAE issued amendments to its Cybercrime Law, which broadened the paraphernalia of repression and gave more power to authorities by allowing them to pursue anyone who “cast doubt on the country’s political system through social networks,” including Twitter, Facebook and email accounts. The law is not only limited to restrict freedom of expression but also restricts freedom of assembly and association. Thanks to this legislation, authorities can justify their narrow aggressive repercussions through a degenerate counterterrorism and so, persecuting any political dissident through the legal framework. Since their adoption, many UAE human rights activists have been accused of violating the Cybercrime Law under various circumstances.
The UAE shares with neighbouring countries a serious record of ill-treatments on detainees and has repeatedly tortured prisoners who clearly oppose the government. Despite being a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), systematic torture occurs in various UAE prisons. Of the 124 UAE prisoners interviewed by Reprieve in 2013, over 75% said they had been physically abused at some time during their arrest, and 95% were interviewed by prosecutors without a lawyer present.
Social mistreatment and gender inequality affect also the democratic process of UAE’s government. Women are repetitively exploited and discriminated. This is in part due to the male guardianship system and the continuous systematic discrimination against women which prevents them from rightfully reporting sexual harassment and rape to the law enforcements. Another group who suffers the same inhuman conditions is the one of migrant workers. They face severe discrimination and exploitation in the UAE. The kafala system poses an enormous threat to migrant domestic workers because the system binds their legal status to their employer; therefore, preventing them from either changing employers or filing lawsuits against them, even when their human rights are violated. Many migrant workers have reported that they were physically abused and had worked excessive hours with delayed wages. Unfortunately, though, since their employers are legitimated to confiscation their passport, they have no way to leave.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) staff is really saddened to hear that the human rights issue in the UAE still struggles to progress, even on a simple theoretical level. A delusional picture that, sadly, reassures our commitment to the cause.