International Centre for Justice and Human Rights
REPORT : ANNUAL REPORT 2017-EVENTS OF 2016
In 2016, the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates has not improved. Indeed, the ICJHR reported several cases where the UAE authorities did not comply with international standards. During 2016, the ICJHR denounced the Emirati authorities’ practices of enforced disappearances as well as incommunicado and arbitrary detention. Those practices put the detainees at further risk of torture and ill-treatment, as reflected in the cases we reported.
Moreover, in September 2016, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders expressed his concern with regards to the human rights violations committed against human rights defenders in the country. The amendment of the Penal code that was introduced in December illustrates the repressive approach endorsed by the UAE government in 2016. The new modifications introduced severe sanctions and regulate more strongly fundamental rights.
Furthermore, the right to freedom of opinion and expression online as well as offline has been severely repressed by the Emirati policies in 2016 and people have been persecuted under the cover of national security. In addition, the right to freedom of assembly and association has been further criminalized by the government throughout the year.
While the authorities continued to deny international monitoring mechanisms the right to visit the detention centers, the prison conditions did not meet minimum standards and families keep being persecuted when visiting their detained relatives.
In addition, the compliance of the authorities with fair trial guarantees has remained a challenge in numerous cases despite a first step taken by the UAE to introduce the Supreme Court of Appeal, that can be appealed, as a first step in cases that were before sent before Federal Supreme Court, which judgments are definitive. However, the measure remains unclear and has no retroactive application.
Migrant workers, stateless persons and women remain very vulnerable groups in the UAE. The country did not fulfill the expectations of the international community with regard to the protection of migrants’ rights and the reform of the Kafala system that remains in place. The issue of statelessness in the UAE also remains of high concern as the number of “bidoon” in 2016 exceeded one hundred thousand. In addition, the state has pursued its practice of citizenship revocation as a mean of repression against activists and their families, which we highly condemn.
PART 1: REPRESSION IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
1.1. CRIMINALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
1.1.1.BRIEF OVERVIEW OF 2016
Throughout 2016, the UAE authorities, through their abusive practices and by criminalizing activists for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association, failed to comply with international standards.
In fact, number of Emirati and non-Emirati citizen were harassed, arrested an even convicted unlawfully in the UAE. As a consequence, the ICJHR reported throughout the year with high concern several cases of serious human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates, which included the practice of torture, enforced disappearance, incommunicado and arbitrary detention as well as unfair trials on activists, reformists, lawyers, bloggers, and journalists.
In early 2016, the Federal Supreme Court convicted three bloggers, for being active online. On June 13, 2016, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Al-Mulla, Mr. Badr al-Bahri, Mr. Abdullah Al Helou and Mr. Fisal Alshehhi were all sentenced to three years of prison after being forcibly disappeared and held in arbitrary detention for over two years for creating an organisation. In October, the enforced disappearances and subsequent conviction of the siblings Amina and Mosaab Alabdouli was followed, a month later, by the unfair trial of Mr. Abdulrahman Binsobeih and his sentence to ten year of prison. In addition, we witnessed in 2016 an alarming increase in the persecutions of human rights defender’s families in the UAE. The ICJHR condemned the measures taken by the UAE authorities to pressure the families.
These significant cases, while illustrating the severe policy that the UAE authorities have adopted to restrict fundamental freedoms and the abuses they impose to their citizens, represents only a small fraction of the numerous activists harassed by the Emirati authorities in 2016. In fact, the human rights situation in the UAE has struggled to improve since 2015.
1.1.2. Civil society and human rights defenders in the UAE
In 2016, the ICJHR observed that, with the strengthening of the State’s surveillance and the introduction of further repressive measures, the space for civil society participation in the UAE had shrunk considerably. As shown in our statements published throughout the year highlighting the severe repression against bloggers, activists, and human rights defenders, we have noted that critics of the government, in addition to those active on social media and online, whether expressing personal opinions or openly criticizing state policies, were the most persecuted by the UAE authorities.
In July, we commemorated the 3rd anniversary of the well-known case of the UAE94, where 94 activists were persecuted and over 60 were convicted in a mass trial for criticizing the government policies, a case that testifies of the crackdown in the name of national security and the lack of place given to the civil society.
In April, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, an academic, prominent economist and activist who publicly advocated for political reforms and human rights in the UAE, was brought before the Federal Supreme Court after being forcibly disappeared in 2015 and being detained for months in an unknown location. In May, after having reported the violations he had undergone, the case
of Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith reached the United Nations Special Procedures who inquired to the Emirati authorities about his situation. At the end of 2016, his case was transferred to the Appeal Court following the amendment of the Federal Law No. 11 of 2016. He remains, to date, held in jail, while not convicted yet, and in weak health condition due to the abusive treatments he suffered in detention.
In August, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, one of the most active and public Emirati human rights defenders not currently imprisoned and living in the UAE, was subjected to a spyware attack in an attempt to hack into his data. Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, also known for being one of the “UAE5”, a famous human rights case, is currently under state surveillance and under travel ban, a situation that hinders his work to promote and defend human rights and puts him at further risk of arrest and harassment from the authorities.
In September, the ICJHR launched a petition to call for the release of Dr. Al-Roken, a well-known human rights lawyer who has been a major
pillar for the promotion of human rights in the UAE. Dr. Al-Roken, an eminent human right defender who was persecuted for his peaceful
human rights work as a lawyer, is currently detained since his trial in 2013, where he was sentenced to 10 years of prison.
Forcibly disappeared in 2012, detained in a secret location and tortured, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken today suffering from the consequences of those abuses and the poor prison conditions.
This year, with most of the eminent human rights defenders behind bars and the introduction of a strict repressive policy, the citizens that spoke up and promoted fundamental freedom were at risk of being arrested, persecuted and suffer human rights violations on the hand of the state security apparatus. Indeed, according to the Civicus Monitor, which tracks civic space, the UAE is classified as a “closed” country where “Public protest is impossible, online content is heavily censored and monitored while the state closely scrutinizes civil society organisations”1.
1.1.3.REPRESSIVE LEGAL FRAMEWORK
In 2016, we monitored the use of laws aiming to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country that have been used to harass and persecute human rights defenders. Since 2011, repressive laws on counter terrorism, peaceful association, cyber criminality as well as restrictive amendments of the current Emirati legislation have introduced flaws in the system through subjective and broad texts that are interpreted as needed by the authorities. Despite the safeguards to guarantee the rights and freedoms that they contain in
1 Civicus Monitor, UAE overview, https://monitor.civicus.org/newsfeed/2016/06/01/uae-overview/ (accessed on January 17, 2017).
accordance with international standards, those laws are used specifically to target critics of the government.
The Emirati authorities mainly use the Penal Code, the Federal Law No. of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes and the Federal Law No.7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism to impose strict restrictions on human rights defenders. For example, the above-mentioned Law on counter terrorism sanctions of death penalty activities that are considered to threaten the “national unity or social peace”, even if those actions are peaceful and is frequently used to repress freedom of association or expression.
In December 2016, the UAE authorities introduced one of the most significant changes to the Emirati legal framework by adopting the Federal Law no.7, which amended the Penal Code. The law introduced over 130 modifications to the Penal Code and the capital punishment in over twenty articles. The amendments impose the death penalty for crimes that remain vaguely defined in the text and therefore will be open to the interpretation of the authorities, an observation that is of high concern. Furthermore, Emirati officials have deliberately amended the articles with regards to punishment and criminalization in a vague and general way to facilitate the persecution of politicians, activists and bloggers and lengthen their detention period.
1.1.4.PERSECUTION OF FAMILIES
The ICJHR remains highly concerned with the increase of the persecutions of human rights defender’s families in the UAE by the UAE in 2016.
In July, we reported the abuses of the Al Rezin prison authorities who prohibited, on the first day of Eid and until the fifth day of feast, families to visit their detained relatives. This recurring problem was reported again on December 25 and 26 when the penitentiary authorities used the false pretext that the phones that allowed the communication through the visiting glass were broken to prevent family visits. Also, in the Al Watba prison, the duration and frequency of visits was reduced from 30 min twice a week to 15 min once a week.
In March 2016, we also denounced the case of Asma (29 years), Duaa (25 years) and Omar Abdul Razzaq (23 years) al-Siddiq, whose father, Mr. Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Siddiq, is known for being convicted in the UAE94 mass trial. Their nationalities were revoked without any legal basis or justification and they were forced to leave the country. The UAE authorities only revoked the nationality of the three siblings, among ten others, known for their background of online activism, which further demonstrates the practice of repression.
1.2. RESTRICTION OF FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS
1.2.1.FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND OF OPINION
In 2016, the ICJHR has seen with preoccupation the introduction of new legislative texts that, combined with the already existing repressive legislative framework in matter of freedom of expression, strengthened the powers of the authorities to pursue anyone doubting the state’s political system. The UAE has been ranked 119 in the Press Freedom Index, which categorizes the level of freedom of the press in a country.2
In July, an Anti-Discrimination Law that criminalizes any actions that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression was adopted. The text criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, or transmission of provocative material by any means, including mainstream and online medias. Moreover, the laws prohibit the criticism of national rulers and any kind of speech that may create or encourage social unrest.
The December amendments to the Penal Code furthered the criminalisation of the right to freedom of expression and opinion through the inclusion of article 182 bis that states the following: “a person shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not less than ten years, when he takes advantage of religion in promoting orally, in writing or in any other way ideas that may harm the unity or the social peace of the state.” They also introduced severe punishment for promoting opinions interfering with the “unity” and “social peace of the state”, terms that can be interpreted widely.
1.2.2.CURTAILING OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ONLINE
In 2016, the country was in 68th position (out of a 100) of the Freedom on the Net Index, a ranking that measures how the governments and other actors restrict rights online.3 This indicates clearly the severe lack of freedom of expression online in the UAE. Indeed, as
2 Reporters Without Borders, 2016 World Press Freedom Index, https://rsf.org/en/ranking (accessed on January 27, 2017).
3 Freedom House, Freedom of the Net 2016, United Arab Emirates Country Profile, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2016/united-arab-emirates (accessed on February 1, 2017).
highlighted in our report on the situation of Freedom of expression issued in May, bloggers, activists and online activists are the most at risk to be persecuted in the UAE.
In February, an Emirati blogger, Mr. Saleh bin Mohammed bin Saleh, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for posting on his twitter account. The following month, the Federal Supreme Court convicted two fellow bloggers, Mr. Abdullah Newab Balushi, who had posted a video and a poem on Whatsapp, and Mr. Marwan Mohammed Atiq bin Sufyan Al Falasi, creator of a website, to five years in prison on the grounds of the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on combating cybercrimes.
In October, Ms. Amina Alabdouli was sentenced to five years in prison for creating two Twitter accounts and posting information to allegedly incite hatred against the UAE and for creating an unrest of the public order. She was also charged for mocking the state’s t reputation, diffusing ‘false’ information and allegedly endangering the UAE’s relations with other countries.
We also recall the ongoing arbitrary detention without a trial of Mr. Tayseer Najjar, a Jordanian journalist held since 2015 in connection with a comment he posted on Facebook regarding the presence of the Egyptian and Israeli military in Gaza. We would like to furthermore recall the case of Mr. Osama Al-Najjar, who was arrested on on March
17, 2014, for exposing on his twitter account the allegations of ill- treatment and the unfair trial his father, Mr. Hussein al-Najjar who was tried within the known case of the “UAE 94”. Despite having spent more than the three quarters of his three years of imprisonment sentence which was issued on November 2014, and in violation of national law, he has not been released yet.
1.2.3.LIMITATIONS TO THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
The past years have seen the adoption of new legislations aiming to further prevent human rights defenders and civil society from participating to the social sphere. In fact, organisations allegedly endangered the state security were outlawed. Therefore, the right to freedom of assembly and association in the country has been strongly hindered through the legislation and in practice.
The Federal Law No. 2 on anti-discrimination and anti-hate adopted last year, contains provisions hindering the rights to freedom of expression and association, and allows the courts to dismantle associations and arrest their creators.
Moreover, the Federal Law No.7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism contains a whole chapter on the offences related to terrorist organisations that prohibits to join, create, participate, prepare or even gather participants to an organisation classified as terrorist. However, the definition of a terrorist organisation remains vague and subjective in the text, which leads to further interpretation.
In addition, the amendments of the Penal Code introduce the punishment death penalty or life imprisonment to anyone found guilty of establishing an organisation aimed at ‘overthrowing the government’ or ‘fighting against constitutional principles’. If the recent law has not had important consequences yet, we remain very concerned with this new modification that will be used to silence peaceful assemblies in the UAE.
Therefore, one of Dr. Bin Ghaith’s charges currently held against him is to allegedly cooperate with the organisation of the “Ummah political parties in the gulf region” particularly with the “Emirates Ummah Party”, which was categorized as a terrorist party by the UAE officials in 2012. Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith was also accused of knowingly attending meetings of the UAE Ummah party, giving lectures, communicating with its members, as well as advising them and participating in their future strategy aiming to implement illegally the idea of a political opposition.
1.2.4.REFORMISTS AND NATIONAL SECURITY
The abovementioned Federal Law No.7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism that criminalizes human rights defenders has been broadly used throughout 2016 on reformists and activists. The text uses vague terms to define terrorism and fails to meet international standards as reported in May 2015 by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
In 2016, these laws were used to suppress freedom of expression and every opinion seen to oppose the policy of the state, which was qualified to be a threat to nationalise security. In fact, any form of expression through mainstream or online media and any gathering that seemed to question the state’s policy – or the friendly countries is deemed to be perceived as an attack against the prestige of the state.
Moreover, the cases prosecuted for national security reasons are under the jurisdiction of the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, a Court that, as the highest court of the federal justice system, allowed no appeal to its judgements. Until the end of 2016, the sentences of activists convicted in trials treated by the Supreme Court were final and could not be appealed, which constituted a serious violation to their right to a fair trial.
The well-known case of the UAE94, where 94 activists were persecuted solely for criticizing the government policies, is one amongst the most significant cases that testify of that crackdown in the name of national security. In 2016, we reported, amongst others, the above- mentioned cases of Mr. Tayseer Najjar, the Alabdouli siblings, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, all criminalized in the name of the state security and prestige.
In August, the “The Million Dollar Dissident”, a research from Citizen Lab, described how the UAE targeted Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, an eminent human rights defender with a sophisticated spyware aimed to infect his IPhone. Indeed, the report discovered several information pointing towards a link between the spyware and the Emirati government. Moreover, the report highlighted that the attacks could be tracked down to 2011.
PART 2: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN THE UAE IN 2016
2.1. ARBITRARY DETENTION, ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE, TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT
2.1.1. PERSONS AT RISK
In the UAE, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance as well as torture and ill-treatment have remained a widespread practice used by the Emirati authorities as a mean of repression. Moreover, in 2016, the UAE has mostly targeted politicians, human rights activists, bloggers as well as Emiratis and non-Emiratis citizens.
In fact, about 97 percent of the trials in the country are linked with freedom of expression, of opinion and of religion. Moreover, the repression against political activists and human rights defenders do not concern solely Emirati citizen. As of 2016, 261 prisoners of opinion have been reported jailed in the UAE, amongst which 21 different nationalities: 181 Emiratis, 30 Egyptians, 10 Yemenis, 6 Palestinians, 5 Lebanese, 4 Syrians, 4 Jordanians, 3 Tunisians, 3 Pakistanis, 2 Omanis, 2 Somalis, 2 Iraqis, 1 Bahrainis, 1 Canadian, 1 Mauritanian, 1 American, 1 Belgian, 1 Iranian, 1 Turkish, 1 Sudanese and 1 Indian.
Since the 2011 wave of arrests that led up to the mass trial of reformists in 2013, reformists and political activists have been the most at risk of being arbitrarily arrested and detained, including, in most of the cases, forcibly disappeared.
In 2016, human rights defenders also remained vulnerable those arbitrary practices used by the State. This observation incited the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to express his concern, during the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva in September 2016, over the exposure, in the UAE, of human rights defenders to significant violations affecting their dignity, fundamental rights and freedoms as well as their physical and moral safety
Throughout the year, bloggers and online activists have also been arbitrarily arrested in a systematic and target-oriented manner. We reported that most of them were only detained for posting peaceful tweets as highlighted in the case of human rights activist and blogger Osama al-Najjar who posted a tweet on his personal twitter account defending his father Hussein al-Najjar and journalist Tayseer Najjar who published a post on Facebook defending the Gaza Strip.
2.1.2.ARBITRARY AND INCOMMUNICADO DETENTION
In 2016, we reported several cases where the State Security Apparatus arrested political dissidents, human rights defenders and bloggers and transferred them to unknown locations. Moreover, several detainees reported having been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment during the investigation and were later brought before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court for trial, on the grounds of unlawful regulations that are contrary to the principle of legality such as the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on combating cybercrimes and the Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on combating terrorist crimes.
According to the information received, after the arrest, the UAE authorities usually deliberately hold peaceful activists and human rights defenders in secret detention locations in order to interrogate them for several weeks or months. They do not inform the relatives neither of the whereabouts of the detainees nor their detention location. Detainees are transferred to the location while blindfolded and can therefore not communicate their position even though they are, in most of the cases, held incommunicado and are thus not allowed visits or phone calls. Moreover, those secret detention centers are usually guarded by Nepali officers to maintain the secrecy of the place.
The case of the Alabdouli siblings, Moza, Walid, Mosaab and Amina, who were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared in November 2015 prior to being held incommunicado for months highlights this practice. In March 2016, Walid Alabdouli was released and, on May 30, 2016, Moza Alabdouli was freed and acquitted of all charges held against her. Mosaab and Amina Alabdouli only reappeared on June 27, 2016, during their first hearing before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.
In 2016, we also monitored the situation of Mr. Abdul-Rahman Binsobeih who was kidnapped in Indonesia in 2015, transferred via private jet to Abu Dhabi where he was detained in an unknown location for 101 days, in clear breach of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates and international charters. On March 28, 2016, he was brought before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court for the first time after his disappearance.
On June, 20, 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sent a letter to Emirati authorities that was published on September 9, 2016 inquiring about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Hospital, in Abu Dhabi, despite his acquittal on June 23, 2014.
The UAE authorities denied him the right to receive visits from his mother and failed to inform Mr. Al-Zaabi of his mother’s death for several days. Moreover, Mr. Obaid al-Zaabi was also prohibited from making any judicial appeal against his arbitrary detention in a psychiatric hospital and was deprived from his right to a lawyer, which is guaranteed under the Principle 11 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. The UAE government’s response to the Special Procedures inquiry on Mr. Obaid Youssef Al-Zaabi’s situation were inaccurate and vague.
During their arbitrary and incommunicado detention, the prisoners are at high risk of being subjected to torture. As mentioned previously, in the UAE, the prisoners of conscience are usually denied their right to inform their families about their arrest and to receive visits from their relatives or their lawyer. They are also prevented from receiving any medical care or examination. Without those safeguards in place, the UAE authorities expose the detainees to several humiliations and use methods of torture and ill-treatment against them. We have been informed of the exercise, in those secret centers, of electrocution, beatings with sticks, suspension by the wrists or ankles, denailing, immersion in cold water in front of a fan, coffin torture, solitary confinement, threats, sleep deprivation, erosion and stripping.
In 2016, we followed the case of Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, which illustrates these violations as he was subjected to enforced disappearance in 2015 and held incommunicado until April 4th, 2016, when he appeared before the Federal Supreme Court. During his first hearing, he reported having been exposed to torture during his incommunicado detention.
2.1.3. LACK OF REPORTING AND INVESTIGATION INTO HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Despite the international calls of many organisations to open investigations into the allegations of torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances, the Emirati government still has not taken a step towards inquiring about those cases and keeps protecting the perpetrators therefore fostering a climate of impunity.
In fact, the Public Prosecutor has never investigated into the detainees’ exposure to torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance, allegations that were reported through the leaked letters of the “UAE 94” prisoners. The UAE officials also failed to open a serious investigation into the allegations of torture of Mr. Kamal Al-Darat and Mr. Salim Al-Aradi who were arrested for their tweets and peaceful human rights work, which affected their dignity, physical and psychological integrity and personal safety.
In April 2016, the Federal Supreme Court, refused to hear Mr. Bin Ghaith torture allegations and prevented him from coming forward with his statement. To date, his situation has not been investigated into as he suffers of severe health issue from the consequences of the treatments that were inflicted on him.
Moreover, the UAE maintains its ban on accepting visits from the Specials Procedure mechanisms. Indeed, the UAE authorities prohibited all of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, from visiting the country, despite its pledge, during the UPR before the Human Rights Council in 2013 to strengthen its cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.
2.2. PERSONS DEPRIVED OF LIBERTY AND UNFAIR TRIALS 2.2.1.PRISON CONDITIONS
In 2016, we reported that prison conditions in Emirati jails did not meet international standards. Prison authorities deliberately abused and ill-treated detained peaceful opponents, reformists, human rights activists and bloggers. Detainees were often exposed to a series of grave human rights violations and severe living conditions. Prisoners often lacked food, clean water, fresh air, commodities such as a bed and are denied adequate a medical care in flagrant violation of The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.
In 2016, the Al-Sadr prison officials did not provide Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith with the appropriate medical care and denied him under false pretexts his hypertension medication. In addition, the prison authorities refused to monitor and treat Dr. Bin Ghaith high blood pressure condition, putting him at further risk, as he also suffers from serious health issues that require immediate attention from a specialist doctor, which was refused. In addition, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith is often denied from receiving visits from his lawyer or family and refused to be given the money his relatives send him to cover his needs in prison.
Mr. Tayseer Hassan Mahmoud Salman al-Najjar has been held in solitary the prison ward number 9 of the Al- Wathba prison since his arrest on December 13, 2015, awaiting his trial. The prison authorities forbid any visits, including in September 2016, a visit from the Jordanian Writers Association. He is currently suffering from serious health issues due to malnutrition and deprivation of sunlight.
2.2.2.HARASSMENT OF THE DETAINEES’ FAMILIES
Furthermore, we would like to highlight that, as previously mentioned, the Al Rezin prison used, in July and December 2016, false pretexts to prevent the prisoners from receiving visits from their families. In the Al Wathba prison visits were reduced in length and frequency without any justification.
In fact, the prison authorities have been known to deliberately harass the detainees’ families during their visits, in violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Those standards, which emphasize the right to prisoner to receive family visits, recognize the prisoner’s right to remain in contact with his relatives through letters and visits.
2.2.3.LACK OF FAIR TRIAL GUARANTEES
The International Center for Justice and Human Rights has monitored in 2016, the referral of many opponents, reformists and human rights defenders before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. The Court is known for its specificity as its judgments are final and do not accept any appeal. In addition, its judges are not independent as they are appointed the executive branch and are subordinated to it.
In September 2016, however, the ICJHR has welcomed the legislative amendment of the Decree No. 11 that introduced the right to appeal in cases
that previously were sent before Federal Supreme Court,
with no such right. The Supreme Court of Appeal, whose
judgments can be appealed, now replaces the Federal Supreme Court as a first step. The amendment stipulates that the ongoing cases that were supervised by the State Security Chamber, should be referred to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
However, this new amendment does not rectify the lack of independence of the Emirati judiciary given the absence of separation between the executive and the judicial powers. In
fact, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriella Knaul reported, following her visit to the UAE in 2014, the weak judicial presence within the Supreme Council of the federal judiciary chaired by the Minister of Justice, in clear violation of the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary, adopted by the resolutions 40/32 and 40/146 of the United Nations General Assembly.
The UAE authorities deny to the defendant fair trial guarantees and, in particular, the right to counsel, the presumption of innocence, the exclusion of confessions extracted under torture, ill treatment and other humiliating or degrading punishment as well as the right to appeal. The ICJHR has also documented the lack of transparency in the hearing sessions as journalists and families of the defendants were not allowed to attend.
In November 2016, we reported the case of Mr. Abdul Rahman Binsobeih who was convicted by the Federal Supreme Court and sentenced with a final judgment to ten years of imprisonment and three years of administrative control.
On October 31, 2016, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mosaab Mohammed Alabdouli to seven years of prison in addition to the confiscation of all his electronic devices. The same court convicted Ms. Amina Alabdouli, to a five-year prison sentence, a 500,000 dirham fine (US$ 136,000) and the confiscation of her electronic devices. The judgment was based on the Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorist Offences.
On June 13, 2016, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Al-Mulla, Mr. Badr al- Bahri, Mr. Abdullah Al Helou and Mr. Fisal Alshehhi were all sentenced to three years of prison after being forcibly disappeared and held in arbitrary detention for over two years.
Moreover, the State Security Chamber delayed the release and acquittal of detainees who were found innocent of all charges. The case of the Omani citizen Mr. Thamer Al Balushi illustrates this practice of the State Security Chamber. In late August 2016, after six months of detention, Mr. Al Balushi was released following the decision of the Federal Supreme Court who confirmed his innocence of all charges after checking his medical tests.
Throughout 2016, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights was also informed about the UAE authorities continuous refusal to bring the Jordanian journalist Tayseer Hassan Mahmoud Salman al Najjar before a court. After setting a date for his trial, the Emirati authorities deliberately delayed his case No. 63/2016, in absolute violation of the defendant’s right to be tried without undue delay and provided with all the necessary guarantees to defend himself.
2.3. MIGRANTS’ RIGHTS
2.3.1. THE SPONSORSHIP (KAFALA) SYSTEM
In 2016, even after having been the subject of many criticisms, the UAE authorities have not taken any steps towards ending the private sponsorship system. The sponsorship system, also called “Kafala”, violates several human rights, including the worker’s right to change his job, to resign and leave the country without his sponsor’s permission. The system is considered by critics as forced labor and slavery. Given its severely repressive functioning, some Gulf States have stopped using it after welcoming a large flux of migrant workers.
One of the Kafala violations is the requisite for a worker to have an “exit permit” to leave the country. Moreover, if a sponsor reports his employee’s absence from work, the latter will be exposed to legal and judicial prosecution. The sponsor can also end the worker’s stay in the country, which will put the worker at risk of arrest since he cannot leave the country without a permit, and would have to go through the deportation procedures.
In January 2016, the United Arab Emirates introduced three ministerial decrees aiming at reducing the abusive provisions guaranteed by the sponsorship system which leads to the exploitation of migrant workers. The decrees allow the workers to change their employment without requiring their sponsor’s agreement but with the consent of the Ministry of Labor, through the imposition of some conditions. Such conditions include for them to provide a proof of the violation of their rights by the sponsor or the arbitrary termination of the contract by the sponsor. In addition, to be able to change sponsors, the worker will have to provide the Ministry with a paper testifying that the former sponsor has no objection to this change and signed by the employer.
Therefore, these changes are not enough, especially since the burden of the proof for these violations lies in the worker who lack resources in comparison to big corporate companies. In addition, these amendments do not effectively and efficiently guarantee the rights of migrant workers and do not include the category of servants and domestic workers. Besides, in practice, employers also seize and confiscate their employees’ passports, despite the fact that Emirati courts have considered such behaviors to be illegal.
In his report presented during the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva in September 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery has focused his work on the issue of migrant workers’ rights. He has highly criticized the sponsorship system in the Gulf region in general and in the UAE in particular.
2.3.2. WORKING CONDITIONS OF MIGRANTS
In 2016, the UAE authorities did not fulfill their responsibility in protecting the rights of migrant workers. They failed to investigate into the unfair or unlawful actions committed by employers. prosecute and provide justice to the victims, usually those affected by the lack of protection of workers against the main construction companies of the United Arab Emirates.
Furthermore, the authorities did not ratified yet the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which contain disposition to protect migrants’ rights.
In addition, migrant workers’ rights are knowingly being violated in the UAE, with the authorities’ awareness and acceptance. Indeed, workers have low wages given the lack of work hour limits and are not subjected to the minimum wage.
Moreover, they usually work in a very dangerous environment which lacks safety or security conditions. Employees that work in the construction of high-rise buildings are especially at risk, as shown in the high death rates among the workers. In addition, the employers usually do not provide victims with the appropriate medical care.
Another practice used by the employers is the retention of wages or the confiscation of passport in order to keep their workers and prevent them from leaving.
Moreover, foreign workers are not allowed to organize trade unions or open collective negotiations with their employers. Besides, the UAE government does not authorize civil society organisations neither to monitor the workers’ rights violations nor to advise the
victims. Many workers also live in very poor and inhuman conditions as they usually share one single room which deepens their situation and increased the suicide rate among them.
2.4. STATELESSNESS AND CITIZENSHIP REVOCATION 2.4.1. STATELESSNESS IN THE UAE
The issue of statelessness has continued to deteriorate in the UAE in 2016 and the number of stateless persons has highly increased. In fact, an article issued by “Foreign Affairs magazine” in June 2016, stated that the number of ”Al-Bidoon” has exceeded one hundred thousand persons in 2016.4
2.4.2. REVOCATION OF NATIONALITIES IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
In 2016, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights reported fifteen cases of nationality withdrawal, some of which included the whole family (father, mother and children and even the grandchildren) while other cases applied only to the father and children without the mother. The ICJHR has been informed that the total number of the persons who were stripped of their nationality has reached 60 individuals.
Moreover, the UAE authorities also revoked the nationality of children, which violates Article 8 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child: “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality”.
The Directorate for Naturalization and Residence is the authority in the UAE that summons the concerned persons under the pretext of a document renewal, asks them to bring their state-issued papers, including their identity documents as well as their driving license and then confiscate all the documents. Subsequently, the Directorate informs the persons that
4 Mahdavi, Pardis (2016, June 30). Stateless and for Sale in the Gulf. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/kuwait/2016-06-30/stateless-and-sale-gulf (Accessed on February 6, 2016)
their nationality has been revoked and that they will be arrested for illegal stay if they do not take an alternative nationality.
For instance, Mr. Obaid Ali Al Kaabia, an Emirati citizen and one of the elders and notable members of the tribe of Bani kaab, was arrested and forcibly disappeared by the State Security Apparatus in April 2016, before being released and arbitrarily revoked, along with his wife and children, of his Emirati nationality for representing a threat to national security.
The case of Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Mohammed Siddiq, a citizen who was born in Sharjah and is currently detained in the Al Rezin prison following a 10-year sentence in the above-mentioned mass trial known as the “UAE 94”, also illustrates the arbitrary withdrawal of nationality that Emirati nationals are exposed to. According to our information, Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Mohammed Siddiq’s children, Asma, Du’a and Omar, were asked to present themselves before the Directorate for Naturalization and Residence with their official documents, which included their passport, identity card, driving license and health insurance card. The officials claimed that their documents were going to be updated when they were, in fact, confiscated. The three siblings were subsequently revoked from their nationality. The authorities claimed that the procedure for the withdrawal of their nationality was based on a presidential decree, which has, to date, not been named or made public.
On April 20, 2016, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders requested the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to clarify the situation of the Al Siddiq siblings whose nationalities had been revoked and were therefore stateless. The Emirati officials’ response justified the revocation on the grounds of an existing decree and on the fact that their father nationality had been obtained through a naturalization, which justified the withdrawal of his children’s nationality. The ICJHR however recalls that Sheikh Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq Siddiq acquired the Emirati citizenship by law and not by naturalization as he was born in the UAE and holds a single nationality. His children were also born in the UAE. It is relevant to further note that only the three siblings with an online activism background, and none of the other seven siblings, were stripped of their citizenship, which shows that the three siblings, Asma, Du’a and Omar, were targeted solely for their human rights activities in support of their detained father.
The UAE did not allow those who were stripped of their nationality to make a judicial appeal against the violation of their right to citizenship, on the contrary, some of Emirati laws consider the withdrawal of nationality as a political and sovereign act that does not accept any judicial appeal or censorship in clear violation of international standards.
2.5. WOMEN’S RIGHTS
According to article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by the United Arab Emirates:” the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women (…)”.
However, while the United Arab Emirates are proclaiming the progress made in the empowerment of women in the country and their leading position in the implementation of gender equality in the Gulf, the authorities are still denying activists, jurists and bloggers their most fundamental freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression and opinion in addition to freedom of association and assembly. Moreover, Emirati authorities keep harassing families of political prisoners as well as human rights activists, including their wives and children.
According to the information we received, the UAE officials criminalize Emirati women deliberately to punish them for the charges of other persons. In addition, they arbitrarily use citizenship revocation on daughters, mothers and wives following their father, son or husband nationality withdrawal.
The above-mentioned case of the al Siddiq’s siblings, whose nationality was revoked in 2016 on the grounds of their father’s nationality withdrawal, can illustrate the situation of that Emirati women are exposed to.
The wife of Mr. Obaid Ali Al Kaabia is also a victim of nationality revocation. Indeed, she was arbitrarily stripped of her nationality following her husband’s arbitrary nationality withdrawal in 2016.
Wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of detainees, politicians, lawyers and bloggers are repeatedly subjected to harassments, humiliations and ill-treatment during their visit to their detained relatives. For instance, upon arrival to the prisons and without prior notice they are often prohibited from visiting their relatives despite having undergone the compulsory and humiliating body search and traveled from afar.
The detainees’ wives also suffer from administrative discrimination and harassments as such procedures are often made difficult by the authorities as a mean of reprisals against their jailed husbands. For example, we have been informed that the authorities deny the access to the administrative documents of the children in the absence of their father as they require his presence or his identity card to follow the procedure, thus preventing the wife to deal with her children’s administrative procedures in the absence of her husband.
With regards to the economic and social rights of women, it is important to recall the lack of safeguards to protect domestic workers’ rights. Indeed, the law expressly excludes domestic workers from any form of protection. Therefore, they are not protected by the hour limit on the maximum working time and do not benefit from a compensation for a sick leave as justified by the Minister of Labor Saqr Ghobash within the specificity of domestic employment.
- Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders and political activists, including academics, bloggers and lawyers detained in the UAE for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as to freedom of association and assembly;
- Take all the necessary measure to guarantee the safety, physical and psychological integrity of people deprived of their liberty in the UAE and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.
- Put an end to the practice of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, enforced disappearance, implement safeguards against those practices in accordance with international human rights standards.
- Investigate promptly and in an independent manner all cases of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances as well as cases of allegations torture and ill-treatment, provide the victims with access to effective remedies, full redress and rehabilitation and hold the perpetrators accountable.
- Accept the invitations from the UN special procedure mandate holders to visit and monitor the Emirati prisons to ensure the respect the Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, the Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners, the Body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment and other international norm.
- Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and rrecognize the competence of the Committee against torture to inquire about any allegations of torture.
- Ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty receive a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial Court in accordance with international human rights standards, which includes the right to appeal the judgment before a higher court or tribunal.
- Put an end to the repressive policies against the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to the monitoring and surveillance of the mainstream and online media. In addition, put an end to the criminalization of associations and organisations and guarantee freedom of assembly for all.
- Repeal the new legislative amendments that further repress fundamental freedoms in the UAE and review the Emirati laws, including the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Cybercrimes Law, in order to make them compatible with international human right standards and implement them in a transparent and effective manner.
- Ratify the International Covenant on civil and political rights, the International Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and their Optional Protocols, as well as the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance.
- Promptly fulfill the pledges made by the United Arab Emirates following the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council in 2013, including the establishment of an independent national human rights institution and strengthening the UAE’s cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, as well as accepting international human rights accountability mechanisms, in addition to continuing the dialogue with civil society institutions regarding the human rights files.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ICJHR
*The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR), Non-Governmental Organization, created on May 9, 2014. As an association, it is governed by the articles 60 ss of the Swiss Civil Code. Its main activities focus on the Gulf Area, mostly, the United Arab Emirates.