Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

The U.S. Department of State notes in its annual report on human rights practices that numerous fundamental practices and policies violate human rights in the United Arab Emirates. Specifically, the UAE does not have democratically elected institutions; citizens do not have the right to change their government or political parties. In certain instances, the government of the UAE has abused people in custody, denied their citizens the right to a speedy trial and access to counsel during official investigations. The UAE's human rights record was widely criticised during the trials of Sarah Balabagan in 1995. In 2004 the Dubai police opened designated departments in all emirate police stations that are mandated to protect the human rights of both victims and perpetrators of crime. Dubai police also sponsored various human rights workshops and training seminars.

The government restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the media avoids directly criticizing the government and censors its own news stories. Freedom of association, and freedom of religion are also curtailed. The trafficking of children for camel jockeys continues despite government pledges to end these practices.

The UAE has not signed most international human rights and labor rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Convention against Torture.

Freedom of speech

Although the UAE constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, in practice these rights are very limited. By law, the Ministry of Information licenses all publications and approves the appointment of editors. Press content also is governed by law. Negative comments about Islam, the government, ruling families, or UAE citizens (by expatriates) are punishable by imprisonment, although this regulation is rarely enforced, as the press practices self-censorship. The Ministry of Information and Culture reviews imported printed material for content and imposes distribution limitations on material considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or contrary to government foreign policy.


On 16 November 2007 Tecom stopped broadcast of two major Pakistani satellite news channels, uplinked from Dubai Media City, which was initially marketed by Tecom under the tagline "Freedom to Create"." The Dubai government ordered Tecom to shut down the popular independent Pakistani news channels Geo News and ARY One World on the demand of Pakistan's military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf. This was implemented by du Samacom disabling their SDI & ASI streams. Later policy makers in Dubai permitted these channels to air their entertainment programs, but news, current affairs and political analysis were forbidden. Although subsequently the conditions were removed, marked differences have since been observed in their coverage. This incident has had a serious impact on all organizations in the media city with Geo TV and ARY OneWorld considering relocation. [ [ Gulf News - Pakistani TV channels may move out of Dubai Media City] ] [ [ Gulf News - Geo TV also plans to move out of Dubai] ] [ [ - Geo TV hints at options outside of Dubai] ]

Freedom of religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs, and the government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some restrictions. The federal Constitution declares that Islam is the official religion of the country. There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

Migrant and labour rights

Migrants, particularly migrant workers, make up a majority (approximately 80%) of the resident population of the UAE, and account for 90% of its workforce. [ [ Essential Background: Overview of human rights issues in United Arab Emirates (UAE) (Human Rights Watch, 31-12-2005) ] ] They lack rights associated with citizenship and face a variety of restrictions on their rights as workers. [ [ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates] ] [ [ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates - PDF] ]

It is common practice for employers in the UAE to retain employees' passports for the duration of the employment contract to prevent expatriate employees from changing jobs. This is an illegal practice, but it is almost never investigated, let alone punished by the government. On termination of an employment contract, certain categories of expatriates are banned from obtaining a work permit in the country for six months.

* In March 2006 NPR reported that workers "typically live eight to a room, sending home a portion of their salary to their families, whom they don't see for years at a time." Others report that their salary has been withheld to pay back loans, making them little more than indentured servants. [ [ "Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Workers"] , by Ivan Watson, "NPR", March 8 2006]
* In December 2005 the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labour problems faced by Indian expatriates in the emirate. The report highlighted delayed payment of wages, substitution of employment contracts, premature termination of services and excessive working hours as being some of the challenges faced by Indian workers in the city. [ [ "Indian government gets report on problems of Indians in UAE"] , "", December 23 2005] The consulate also reported that 109 Indian blue collar workers committed suicide in the UAE in 2006. [ cite web|url= |title=Blood, Sweat and Tears |accessdate=2008-03-10 |date=2007-08-15 | |publisher=Al Jazeera English |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-03-10 ]
* The BBC reported in September 2004 that "local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end. They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed. The names of the construction companies concerned are not published in the newspapers for fear of offending the often powerful individuals who own them.". [ [ "Workers' safety queried in Dubai"] , by Julia Wheeler, "BBC News", September 27 2004]
* In 2004 the United States Department of State has cited widespread instances of blue collar labour abuse in the general context of the United Arab Emirates. [ cite web|url= |title=2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - United Arab Emirates|accessdate=2008-03-10 |date=2005-02-28 |publisher=U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-03-10 ]
* In September 2003 the government was criticised by Human Rights Watch for its inaction in addressing the discrimination against Asian workers in the emirate. [ [ Dubai: Migrant Workers at Risk (Human Rights Watch, 19-9-2003) ] ]

Though officially there is a labour ministry where workers can go for redress, this is more in name than in practice. Construction workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh often cannot speak either Arabic or English, and their claims can drag on in the labour courts for months by which time the unpaid labourers have little option other than acceptance of whatever settlement is given.

However, the UAE government has denied any kind of labour injustices and has stated that the accusations by Human Rights Watch were misguided. [ [ UAE to allow construction unions] "BBC News", March 30 2006, retrieved April 24 2006] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: "Labourers will be allowed to form unions."

Worker's riots

On 21 March 2006, tensions boiled over at the construction site of the Burj Dubai as workers upset over low wages and poor working conditions rioted, damaging cars, offices, computers, and construction tools. A Dubai Interior Ministry official said the rioters caused approximately US$1 million in damage. On March 22 most workers returned to the construction site but refused to work. Workers building a new terminal at Dubai International Airport went on strike in sympathy. [ [ "Workers Riot at Site of Dubai Skyscraper"] , by Jim Krane, "", March 22 2006]

Another strike took place in October 2007. Over 4000 strikers were sent to jail. Most of them were released some days later and were then to be expelled and deported from Dubai. [ [ "Striking Workers Released From UAE Jail"] , by Barbara Surk, "The Associated Press", October 31 2007]

Types of UAE Labor Laws

UAE has four main types of Labor laws:

* Federal Labor Law – Applies to all the seven Emirates and supersedes free zone laws in certain areas [ [ UAE Federal Labor Law] ] .

* JAFZA Labor Law – Applies to the Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone.

* TECOM Labor Law – Applies to all Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone properties: Internet City, Media City, Studio City and International Media Production Zone [ [ TECOM - Labor Law] ] .

* DIFC Labor Law – Applies to all companies in the Dubai International Financial Center free zone [ [ DIFC - Laws & Regulations] ] .

Lack of Enforcement

UAE labor laws are written to favor the employer and generally undermine the rights of employees to facilitate and accelerate UAE’s development. The UAE Ministry of Labor Department is criticized for loosely enforcing these laws most notably, late or no wage or overtime payment for both blue collar and white collar employees [ [ Human Rights Watch - VI. UAE Labor Law] ] [ [ Dubai Labor – Unofficial Expat Resource] ] [ [ Gulf News - 1,600 workers march from Ajman to Sharjah over unpaid wages] ] .

Freezone labor laws are friendlier to employees moving between companies, unlike the first federal UAE labor law applicable outside freezones, which automatically bans employees for a period of six months up to an year, for leaving a company before finishing one year. These kinds of laws discourage free labor movement, and give employers an unfair advantage in salary negotiations.

Types of discrimination

Job discrimination based on ethnic origins, is openly practiced and not discouraged, and no laws exist to prevent that. Jobs openings are advertised in major news papers like Gulf News and Khaleej Times with statements such as ‘UK/US educated’ or ‘Arabs only’ apply.

Salary discrimination is also rampant with the highest paid jobs going to UAE national Emiratis (by virtue of them being UAE nationals) and the UAE Emiratisation program, [ [] ] [ [ Gulf News - New emiratisation drive] ] [ [ Gulf News - Call for cautious Emiratisation] ] forcing companies by law to hire a percentage of nationals in their organizations.

Second highest salaries go to people of Western origins; "i.e.", U.S. Americans, Western European nationals, New Zealand and Australia. People from South Asia, East Asia and Africa are offered and receive considerably less in various sectors of the UAE economy. [ [ – Salary Survey Report 2008] ]

Human trafficking and prostitution

According to the Ansar Burney Trust (ABT), an illegal sex industry thrives in the emirates, where a large number of the workers are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially in Dubai. This complements the tourism and hospitality industry, a major part of Dubai's economy. [ [ The Social Affairs Unit - Web Review: Dubai, Dubai - The Scandal and The Vice ] ]

Prostitution, though illegal by law, is conspicuously present in the emirate because of an economy that is largely based on tourism and trade. There is a high demand for women from Eastern Europe. According to the "World Sex Guide", a website catering to sex tourists, Russian and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, while Eastern European prostitutes are part of a well organized trans-Oceanic prostitution network. [cite web
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title = Globalising Prostitution in the Middle East
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] The Government has been trying to curb prostitution. In March 2007, it was reported that the UAE has deported over 4,300 sex workers mainly from Dubai. [ [ UAE deports 4,300 women] 7days 2007] [ [ FRONTLINE/World - Rough Cut - Dubai: Night Secrets - The oldest profession in the newest playground] ]

Trafficking of children

A 2004 HBO documentary accuses the UAE of illegally using child jockeys in camel racing, where they are subjected also to physical and sexual abuse. Anti-Slavery International has documented similar allegations. [ [ Anti-Slavery - photo gallery - Child camel jockeys in the UAE ] ] The Ansar Burney Trust [ [ Ansar Burney Trust - Child Camel Jockeys - Modern Day Slavery] ] , which was featured heavily in the HBO documentary, announced that in 2005 the government of the UAE began actively enforcing a ban on child camel jockeys, and that the issue "may finally be resolved". [ [ ] ]

An action filed in the United States in September 2006 accuses Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai's ruler, of abducting, trafficking and enslaving thousands of young children for camel races. The children were said to be from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Asia. [ [ BBC NEWS | Middle East | Dubai's ruler accused of slavery ] ]

ee also

* Human rights in Dubai
* LGBT rights in United Arab Emirates
* List of human rights articles by country
* Freedom of religion in the United Arab Emirates
* Communications in the United Arab Emirates



External links

* [ Ansar Burney Trust]
* [ Situation of Labourers ]
* [ Human Rights Watch reports on the United Arab Emirates]
* [ Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery]
* [ Prevalence, Abuse & Exploitation of Street Children]
* [ Child Prostitution in the UAE]
* [ UAE Prison]
* [ Sinister Paradise: Does the Road to the Future End at Dubai?]
* [ Censorship in UAE] - IFEX

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