The US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor publish yearly reports on the state of human rights practices in different countries of the world. The 2010 report on the state of human rights in the UAE is most disturbing due to the things that were reported. Various claims of human rights abuse by the states, government officials, the ruling families, the judiciary, government institutions, and even employers committed last year were made. The judiciary is accused of employing punishments that are dis respective of individual’s rights while at the same time lacking independence to pass judgment fairly. The government is accused of restricting civil liberties and even censoring the press and the internet. The rights of women were reported to be undermined through domestic abuse and discrimination both by the law and society. The rights of foreign workers were seriously restricted by the government while abuse of domestic workers was rampant. These and more issues are reported about the UAE, and I will outline some of them in detail in the following discussion and how they are viewed by the US government.
In the report, last year reported cases of rape and sexual assault were common among domestic workers, which were perpetrated by their employers. Spousal rape and physical abuse were also prevalent which to lowed at some extent under the penal code. The cases were reported in the police units stationed at the major hospitals, but complaints of police refusing to protect women and encouraging them to go back home or even contacting their husbands to take them home were made. “Chastising” wives and children by their husbands and fathers are allowed by the law as long as it does not result in bruising. This has created an uproar in the US since abuse of women and children goes beyond physical harm to psychological harm that is inflicted on the victim and is punishable by law. No form of abuse, whether it results in bruising or not is allowed by the US laws, and children are well protected by law and if any form of abuse such as “chastising” is reported one can even lose their children besides being punished by the law. This shows misconceptions and stereotypes the western world has about women being a restricted group in UAE. Women have evolved as a norm to be at the forefront in the government and private sectors of the economy as UAE Interact (15) add. The government has also implemented a number of social support initiatives in the country to provide social and psychological support to women, both citizen and expatriates, who have been victims of human trafficking and other forms of abuse
In UAE, women are discriminated economically and legally as the report says. The interpretation of Sharia law in personal status and family law cases were discriminating against women. Women are barred from marrying non-Muslims while men can, and women who marry non-citizens are not able to automatically pass their citizenship to their children while men can. Men can also marry up to four wives while women cannot. This is entirely the opposite of what the US standards, since a woman or man who marries a non-citizen automatically passes their citizenship to their children, and a man or woman can only be married to one partner at any given time and if one wishes to marry again a divorce must be from his/her partner otherwise the second marriage is null and void. Mahdavi (41) says that the government is determined to eliminate any kind of discrimination against women and has ratified the United Nations Convention that seeks to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women. Emirates women are also becoming leaders in different fields if those traditionally not associated with women such as airline pilots, ambassadors, prosecutors and judges, and even in politics. The government showed commitment to involving women fully in decision-making by increasing women ministers to four and by hosting the second Arab Women’s Organization conference in November 2008.
UAE relies heavily on expatriate labor, which accounts for 90% of the labor force (Mahdavi 16). The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report say that, despite the heavy reliance on foreign labor, the country does not allow workers to form unions which undermine their right to association. Professional organizations present in the country are overly restricted by the government to be of any help. In the US, workers Unions are particularly common and strong and are supported by the law and workers are free to join and form one. Industrial conflicts between workers and employers are mainly negotiated with workers’ unions. Workers strikes are another common practice in the US whenever disputes arise in firms something that is not practiced in our country. The law allows private-sector workers to strike but, the employer has the right to suspend the striking worker. It is also alleged that the government can terminate the work permit of a foreign worker who does not report for duty for more than seven days without a valid reason. The UAE government is committed to upholding the rights of all workers and is a member of the International Labor Organization, Arab Labor Organization, and others that focus on the rights of workers. Besides, the government is committed to upholding the rights of guest workers and treating them with respect and dignity, and, for this reason, all emirates have implemented changes in improving their working conditions and rights (UAE Interact 11).
Domestic and agricultural workers in the UAE were reported to be the ones experiencing most of the problems. One of these problems was unpaid labor. The reasons given for not paying were repayment of the hiring expenses, recruitment fees that were paid to recruiters in their countries. The report also continues to say that employers kept their worker’s passports which restrict their freedom of movement. The contracts signed also held some prohibitions for changing jobs which were unfair to the workers. Although the Ministry of Labor had banned the “no Objection” certificate form for former employers, reports from the media about workers stranded in various parts of the country because of abandonment from employers were rampant. These were found in labor camps without legal residency documentation, wages, and work, and in some cases no access to food and water. The government has made significant efforts to protect the rights of workers by ensuring fair and on-time payment, which has positively impacted the labor environment in the country. A new law has been put in place to protect domestic workers. In 2006 also, the government enforced a law on mandatory employment contracts for domestic workers in regard to salary, accommodation, healthcare, and working hours. Finally, the government has initiated a pilot program for negotiations, and dialogue on labor will be done with individual labor exporting countries at the multilateral level. This has included a study of the challenges workers face right from recruitment in their countries of origin to their places of work in the UAE and the issue they face when they return home after their contract ends (Mahdavi 13).
Freedom of speech and press
In the UAE, the freedom of speech and press are provided for in the constitution but this freedom is restricted by the government in practice as the report says. The report points out that journalists and editors have to extensively censor their material before sending it to the public domain for fear that the government will take offense and since most journalists are foreigners they fear such an act would lead to their deportation. The dismissal of the government employee who is an advisor to the Ras al Khaimah prince last year for citing that there is no freedom of speech in the country in a TV interview is seen as a manifestation of UAE intolerance to criticism. In addition to this government ownership of three of the country’s newspapers and its heavy influence on privately-owned media is seen s an indication of restricting press freedom. National Media Council is another avenue where the US State Department sees freedom of the press being restricted due to its role of licensing and censoring publications even those from the private association. The fact that this council is appointed by the president and has to be informed in the appointment of editors and issuing credentials instead of an independent institution as it happens in the west, is an indication of restriction in the press and speech freedom. Moreover, the government restriction on access to websites and monitoring chat rooms, blogs, and Instant messaging services is looked at as a violation of freedom of speech and press. People have been accustomed to this to practice self-censorship, which in the US can stir uproar (Abed, Ibrahim, et al 38).
Prison and detention center conditions
Another matter that was given much prominence in the report is the conditions of our prisons and detention centers. Some prisons especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were said to be overcrowded with conditions for both women and men being equal. Matters of religious observance in prisons were reported to be unclear which was meant to create doubts about whether this is really observed. Though prisoners had a right to make an appeal the s to the judiciary, the details of these investigations are not put in the public arena which leaves one to wonder whether they are really investigated. It was made clear by the report that prisoners who are HIV positive are discriminated against by government officials. This is said to be done by separating them from the rest and denying them commuted sentences as well as parole thing that other prisoners with similar records enjoy. An example is cited of a prisoner who committed suicide in his solitary confinement as the prison authorities failed to seek medical help for him. Though the government allows NGOs to observe prison conditions upon request, they were denied entrance in one institution. Charitable organizations have also been able to provide help to prisoners, but they cannot determine their welfare for reasons that the report did not give.
UAE is committed to the protection and preservation of human rights something that stems from our cultural heritage and religious values, the emphasize justice, equality and tolerance. The country is also a member of the United Nations and has been an active participant in the Universal Periodic Review and has ratified human rights charters and customs. Furthermore, our constitution clearly outlines and protects the rights and freedoms of all citizens and residents and has invested heavily in the modernization of our laws and practices so as to ensure this. Despite all these efforts, a report by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor published a report on the state of human rights in the UAE which made serious allegations on various aspects of human rights practices. These were reported to have been committed by the government, government officials, police, employers, government institutions and even the ruling families. Women rights were extensively covered, and rape, sexual assault and domestic violence were said to be common. This was especially so for domestic workers and wives. In addition to this, women were said to be economically and legally discriminated by the interpretation and practice under the Sharia law in regard to personal status and family law. Human rights abuses were also indicated to be common among foreign workers who are not allowed to form unions. Freedom of speech and the press is also reported being constrained in the country with the government holding the valve in many aspects. Prisons and detention centers were shown to restrict human rights as they are overcrowded and prisoners denied medical care, being discriminated on the basis of their HIV status and religious observance.
Abed, Ibrahim, et al. United Arabs Emirates Year Book. UAE: Trident Press, 2010. Print.
Mahdavi, Pradis. Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human trafficking in Dubai. California: Stanford University Press, 2011. Print.
UAE Interact. “UAE is keen on tackling human rights issues head on. UAE interact, 19(17), pp. 39-81. Web. 2011.