Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

According to human rights organizations, the government of the UAE violates a number of fundamental human rights. The UAE does not have democratically elected institutions and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. There are reports of forced disappearances in the UAE, many foreign nationals and Emirati citizens have been abducted by the UAE government and illegally detained and tortured in undisclosed locations.[1][2] In numerous instances, the UAE government has tortured people in custody (especially expats and political dissidents).[3][4][5][6][7] and has denied their citizens the right to a speedy trial and access to counsel during official investigations.[1][2]

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Flogging and stoning are legal forms of judicial punishment in the UAE due to Sharia courts.[8] The government restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the local media is censored to avoid criticizing the government, government officials or royal families. Freedom of association and freedom of religion are also curtailed.

Despite being elected to the UN Council, 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, and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Capital punishment

Execution in the UAE is through either a firing squad, hanging, or stoning.[9][10][11][12]

Sharia law

Flogging and stoning

The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's civil and criminal courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[13]

Flogging is a punishment for criminal offences such as adultery, premarital sex and alcohol consumption.[14][15] Due to Sharia courts, flogging is legal with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes.[14][16][17] Verbal abuse pertaining to a person's sexual honour is illegal and punishable by 80 lashes.[18] Between 2007 and 2014, many people in the UAE were sentenced to 100 lashes.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] More recently in 2015, two men were sentenced to 80 lashes for hitting and insulting a woman.[28] In 2014, an expat in Abu Dhabi was sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption and raping a toddler.[29] Alcohol consumption for Muslims is illegal and punishable by 80 lashes, many Muslims have been sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40] Sometimes 40 lashes are given.[41]

Illicit sex is sometimes penalized by 60 lashes.[42][43][44] 80 lashes is the standard amount for anyone sentenced to flogging in several emirates.[45] Sharia courts have penalized domestic workers with floggings.[46] In October 2013, a Filipino housemaid was sentenced to 100 lashes for theft committed after her employer discovered her illegitimate pregnancy.[47] Drunk-driving is strictly illegal and punishable by 80 lashes; many expats have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drunk-driving.[48][49][50][51][52][53][54] In Abu Dhabi, a man has been sentenced to 80 lashes for being drunk while with his girlfriend on the Corniche.[55] Under UAE law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes.[56]

Stoning is a legal punishment in the UAE. In May 2014, an Asian housemaid was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi.[57][58][59] In 2006, an expatriate was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.[60] Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.[61][62]

Abortion is illegal and punishable by a maximum penalty of 100 lashes and up to five years in prison.[63] In recent years, several people have retracted their guilty plea in illicit sex cases after being sentenced to stoning or 100 lashes.[64][65] The punishment for committing adultery is 100 lashes for unmarried people and stoning to death for married people.[66]

Apostasy from Islam

Apostasy from Islam is a crime punishable by death in the UAE.[67][68] Blasphemy is illegal, expats involved in insulting Islam are liable for deportation.[69] UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code – apostasy being one of them.[70] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty.[70][71]

Emirati women and Islamic women

Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to marry and remarry.[72] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[72] In all emirates, it is illegal for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.[73] In the UAE, a marriage union between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man is punishable by law, since it is considered a form of fornication.[73]


Homosexuality is illegal and is a crime that is punishable with the death penalty in the UAE.[74]

Public affection

Romantic kissing in public places is considered discourteous to the Emirati culture and is discouraged. However, it is not illegal for people to greet and kiss.[75][75] Public sex is a crime punishable by law.[76][77]

Family law

The Sharia-based personal status law regulates matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims.[78] Non-Muslim expatriates are liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[78] Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear family disputes, including matters involving divorce, inheritances, child custody, child abuse and guardianship of minors. Sharia courts may also hear appeals of certain criminal cases including rape, robbery, driving under the influence of alcohol and related crimes.[79]

Other laws

Article 1 of the Federal Penal Code states that "provisions of the Islamic Law shall apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punitive punishment and blood money."[80] The Federal Penal Code repealed only those provisions within the penal codes of individual emirates which are contradictory to the Federal Penal Code. Hence, both are enforceable simultaneously.[81]

A new federal law in the UAE prohibits swearing in Whatsapp and penalizes swearing by a $68,061 fine and imprisonment,[82] expats are penalized by deportation.[82][83][84][85] In July 2015, an Australian expat was deported for swearing in Facebook.[86][87][88][89][90]

Amputation is a legal punishment in the UAE due to the Sharia courts.[91][92][93][94][95] During the month of Ramadan, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset.[96] Exceptions are made for pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims,[96] and failure to comply results in arrest.[97]

Forced disappearances and torture

In numerous instances, the UAE government has tortured people in custody (especially expats and political dissidents).[3][4][5][6][7] UAE authorities are known to be using torture as a means to extract forced confessions of guilt.[98][99] UAE has escaped the Arab Spring; however, more than 100 Emirati activists were jailed and tortured because they sought reforms.[100][101][102] Since 2011, the UAE government has increasingly carried out forced disappearances.[1][2][103][104][105][106] Many foreign nationals and Emirati citizens have been arrested and abducted by the state, the UAE government denies these people are being held (to conceal their whereabouts), placing these people outside the protection of the law.[1][101][107] According to Human Rights Watch, the reports of forced disappearance and torture in the UAE are of grave concern.[2]

The Arab Organisation of Human Rights has obtained testimonies from many defendants, for its report on "forced disappearance and Torture in the UAE", who reported that they had been kidnapped, tortured and abused in detention centres.[1][3][107] The report included 16 different methods of torture including severe beatings, threats with electrocution and denying access to medical care.[1][107]

In 2013, 94 Emirati activists were held in secret detention centres and put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government.[108] Human rights organizations have spoken out against the secrecy of the trial. An Emirati, whose father is among the defendants, was arrested for tweeting about the trial. In April 2013, he was sentenced to 10 months in jail.[109]

Repressive measures were also used against non-Emiratis in order to justify the UAE government's claim that there is an "international plot" in which UAE citizens and foreigners were working together to destabilize the country. Foreign nationals were also subjected to a campaign of deportations.[107] There are many documented cases of Egyptians and other foreign nationals who had spent years working in the UAE and were then given only a few days to leave the country.[107]

Foreign nationals subjected to forced disappearance include two Libyans[110] and two Qataris.[107][111] Amnesty reported that the Qatari men have been abducted by the UAE government and the UAE government has withheld information about the men's fate from their families.[107][111] Among the foreign nationals detained, imprisoned and expelled is Iyad El-Baghdadi, a popular blogger and Twitter personality.[107] He was arrested by UAE authorities, detained, imprisoned and then expelled from the country. Despite his lifetime residence in the UAE, as a Palestinian citizen, El-Baghdadi had no recourse to contest this order.[107] He could not be deported back to the Palestinian territories, therefore he was deported to Malaysia.[107]

In 2012, Dubai police subjected three British citizens to beatings and electric shocks after arresting them on drugs charges.[112] The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed "concern" over the case and raised it with the UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during his 2013 state visit to the UK.[113] The three men were pardoned and released in July 2013.[114]

In April 2009, a video tape of torture smuggled out of the UAE showed Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods, and wooden planks with protruding nails, and running him over repeatedly with a car.[115]

In December 2009, Issa appeared in court and proclaimed his innocence.[116] The trial ended on 10 January 2010, when Issa was cleared of the torture of Mohammed Shah Poor.[117] Human Rights Watch criticised the trial and called on the government to establish an independent body to investigate allegations of abuse by UAE security personnel and other persons of authority.[118] The US State Department has expressed concern over the verdict and said all members of Emirati society "must stand equal before the law" and called for a careful review of the decision to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case.[119]

According to Human Rights Watch annual report 2016, Emirates authorities forcibly disappeared and detained people who criticized the government or its allies. February 2015, Human Rights Watch documented a case in which three Emirati sisters, Asma, Mariam, and Al Yazzyah al-Suweidi, were forcibly disappeared by Emirates authorities. They released them without charge after spending 3 months in incommunicado detention. The three sisters had arrested after posting comments criticizing government for arresting their brother Dr. Issa al-Suweidi. In August 2015, Emirati academic Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested after posting some comments on social media in which he criticized the mass killing of Rab'a protesters in Cairo in 2013. Bin Ghaith's fate still unknown at time of writing.[120]

According to Amnesty annual report (2016) on Human Rights in UAE, enforced disappearance has been widely practiced against citizen and foreign nationals in UAE. The international organization said UAE government has forcibly disappeared dozens of people for months in secret and unacknowledged detention for interrogation. According to the report, Abdulrahman Bin Sobeih was subjected to enforced disappearance for three months by UAE authorities. In addition, Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, an academic and economist, has been forcibly disappeared by the authorities for more than 10 months. Bin Ghaith has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment as he faced charges relating to his right to freedom of expression.[121]

November 2017, Abu Dhabi security forces arrested two journalists covering the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum for Swiss public broadcaster. The journalists were held for more than 50 hours, with no possibility to communicate with the outside world. According to RTS, The journalists were interrogated for up to nine hours at a time, and were blindfolded as they were shuttled between different locations. Furthermore, their camera, computers, hard drives and other material were confiscated.[122]

According to a 2018 UN report, the weapons used by Saudi-led coalition against Yemeni civilians have violated both, the international humanitarian law and the international human rights law.[123]

In March 2018, an Emirati princess Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum II, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was seized by commandos from a yacht away from the Indian coast, after she fled from UAE.[124] A BBC documentary reported how the princess planned her escape from her residential palace.[125] In a video recorded by Latifa prior to her escape, she claimed to have tried escaping from the UAE previously. However, she was captured at the border and jailed for three years; beaten and tortured. In December, a statement released by her family quoted that the princess was “safe” at her home. Since early March, the whereabouts of the princess have remained unknown.[126]

A number of UAEs royals have been charged for abusing and ill-treating servants in overseas countries.[127]

In 2019, a 42-year-old Emirati woman, who was arrested in 2015 by the UAE authorities, grabbed media attention due to the ill-treatment she received during her imprisonment in the UAE. While raising funds for Syrian refugees, Alia Abdel Nour was arrested on the accusations of funding terrorism. She has been imprisoned for 10 years and been subjected to immense torture and solitary confinement, with no access to ventilation, toilet, mattress, blanket, proper food and medicine. Despite being diagnosed of cancer – shortly after her arrest - she did not receive any medical treatment. Emirati authorities claim that Nour herself declined the medical treatment, while her family claims she was forced to sign documents that forbid her access to the treatment.[128][129]

On 4 May 2019, Alia Abdel Nour died in the UAE prison following a prolonged mistreatment and denial of medical care by the Emirati authorities. Since her arrest, her hands and feet were shackled to her hospital bed for long periods of time. The UAE authorities ignored requests by the international rights groups, European parliamentarians and United Nations experts to release her on the grounds of her deteriorating health.[130]

In January 2019, the UAE police detained 26-year-old Ali Issa Ahmad for reportedly wearing a t-shirt with Qatar's flag on it after the Qatar vs Iraq AFC Asian Cup match in Abu Dhabi.[131] Ahmad complains that the FIFA "failed to protect" his human rights. Pictures of scars on Ahmad's body from the torture sustained during detention have released by BBC. The victim has complained about racial discrimination and of being stabbed and deprived of food and water while inside the prison. Complaints have been registered against FIFA as well as directed to UAE authorities through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the UN Human Rights Council.[132] According to UAE authorities, the police took Ahmed to a hospital to be examined for signs of abuse, which he complained of to the police — as is customary in cases of assault in the UAE. A medical report revealed that his injuries were inconsistent with the account of events he gave to police, and that his wounds were self-inflicted. UAE embassy in the UK denied the news allegations that he was arrested for wearing a Qatari shirt, stating "He was categorically not arrested for wearing a Qatar football shirt". Ahmed was charged for wasting police time and filing a false report, which is an illegal act. During the AFC Asian cup, fans were seen wearing the Qatari football shirt and waving Qatari flags without any instances of arrest.[133]

Secret prisons

The UAE runs secret prisons in Yemen where prisoners are forcibly disappeared and tortured.[134][135][136][137][138][139]

Freedom of speech

In the UAE, it is not permitted to be in any way critical of the government, government officials, police and the royal families. Any attempt to also form a union in public and protest against any issue, will be met with severe action.[140]

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 had 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.[141][142][143]

Andrew Ross, a professor at NYU was not allowed to enter the UAE (where NYU has a campus), after he had commented on the treatment of workers who built the campus there. Airline staff at the airport informed him that the UAE authorities told them that they will refuse him entry.[144]

The Amnesty International released a report about violating the right to freedom of expression in the United Arab Emirates. According to the report, a prominent economist, academic and human rights defender Dr Nasser bin Ghaith was sentenced to 10 years in jail by the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. He was charged of posting false information on Twitter about UAE leaders and their policies; and the comments state that he had not been given a fair trial where he and four other Emirates prosecuted on charges of publicly insulting the countries' leaders over comments posted online. He was forcibly disappeared, held in secret detention for months and subjected to beatings and deliberate sleep deprivation.[145]

The Amnesty International published a report about violating the human rights in the United Arab Emirates . According to the report, a prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at 3:15 by 10 male and two female uniformed security officials. They raided the family's apartment, carried out a lengthy room-by-room search, including of the children's bedroom, and confiscated electronic devices. He was detained for the peaceful expression of conscientiously held belief.[146]

The Human Rights Watch issued a report regarding the violation of the rights to freedom of expression in the United Arab Emirates. On 15 March 2017, Tayseer Najjar, a Jordanian journalist, was sentenced to a three-year prison term and a fine of 500,000 UAE Dirhams by Abu Dhabi Federal Appeals Court. He was charged with insulting the state's symbols and criticizing Egypt, Israel and Gulf countries through comments he made on Facebook during Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2014, before he moved to the UAE. Ten days after preventing him to travel to Jordan for his wife and children on 3 December 2015, UAE authorities summoned al-Najjar to a police station in Abu Dhabi and detained him. They also prevented him to contact with a lawyer for more than a year before bringing him to trial in January 2017.[147]

Najjar was set to be released on December 13, 2018, after completing a three-year prison sentence. However, his sentence was extended for another six months as he failed to pay the substantial fine. Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders urged Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, for an immediate release of the journalist. Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of Human Rights Watch said, “If the UAE were truly committed to its rhetoric of tolerance, it would not have ripped Najjar away from his wife and children for years-old innocuous Facebook posts.”[148]

The Amnesty International issued a report regarding the violation of the right to freedom of speech in the united Arab Emirates. Hussain al-Najjar has served an 11-year prison sentence; he is one of a number of prisoners convicted in 2013 following the grossly unfair mass trial of 94 government critics and reform advocates. Accordingly, on 17 March 2014, the activist Osama al-Najjar who is a 28- year-old son of Hussain, was sentenced to 3 years in prison after sending tweets to the Minister of Interior expressing concern about his father who had been ill-treated in jail. During the detention, he was denied access to a lawyer for over six months and held in solitary confinement at a secret detention facility for four days after his arrest.[149]

During the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis, Hamad Saif al-Shamsi, the Attorney-General of the United Arab Emirates announced on 7 June that publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar through social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form is considered illegal under UAE's Federal Penal Code and the Federal law on Combating Information Technology Crimes. Violators of this offense face between 3 and 15 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 500,000 emirati dirhams ($136,000) or both.[150][151]

In March 2017, UAE’s prominent economist, academic and human rights defender Dr Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested and imprisoned for 10 years, for his comments on Twitter related to the treatment he received during his previous arrest. The Amnesty International condemned and criticised the arrest, asking for his immediate release – which is still pending.[152] Ghaith went on a hunger strike in October 2018; his health has been deteriorating since then. Also, he was denied access to a lawyer during his trial period and still awaits justice.[153]

According to Amnesty International, Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to target human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor.[154][155] Citizen Lab’s August 2016 report, The Million Dollar Dissident, documents the attempts made to infect Mansoor’s phone with Pegasus spyware.[156]


In 2012, a cybercrime decree was issued, imposing severe restrictions on freedom of speech in social networking, blogs, text messages and emails. The law outlawed criticism of senior officials and demands for political reform.[157] The law stipulates an imprisonment and a fine of up to 1,000,000 dirhams for publishing information which is deemed to be critical towards the state.[157]

In 2015, a man was detained for commenting on his employer's Facebook page after a disagreement with his employer, even though the posts were made while the man was in the United States. Police in Abu Dhabi contacted him after he came back to the UAE and asked him to meet officers at a police station, where he was later detained.[158]

Secret Dubai was an independent blog in Dubai, from 2002 until 2010. It generated a significant following in the Middle East Blogosphere until the UAE's Telecoms Regulatory Authority (TRA) in the UAE blocked the website.

In July 2016, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain released a report accusing UAE government of enacting further laws to restrict the freedom of political and social expression. According to the organization, Federal Law No. 12 of 2016 inhibits social and political resistance, by constraining an individual's right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. ADHR also said counter terrorism Laws in UAE are used to legalize arbitrary arrests, detainment, prosecution and imprisonment of peaceful protestors and government critics.[159]

In 2018, Internet service providers in UAE blocked all VoIP apps, but permitting "government-approved VoIP apps (C’ME and BOTIM)."[160][161] In opposition, a petition on garnered over 5000 signatures, in response to which the website was blocked in UAE.[162]

Freedom of religion

In recent years, a large number of Shia Muslim expatriates have been deported from the UAE,[163][164][165] Lebanese Shia families have been deported for their alleged sympathy for Hezbollah.[166][167][168][169][170][171] According to some organizations, more than 4,000 Shia expats have been deported from the UAE in recent years.[172][173]

Women's rights

The United Arab Emirates ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2004. This Convention regards violence against women as a form of discrimination and calls on participating governments to put measures in place to combat violence in all forms, be it domestic or public. The UAE regularly participates in and hosts international and GCC conferences on women's issues. The UAE has signed several other international treaties on protecting the rights of women. Among these are the Convention on the Rights of a Child, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, the Equal Remuneration Convention, the Conventions Concerning Employment of Women During the Night and the Minimum Age Convention.

The 2015 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) status report on Millennium Development Goals noted that the state legislations in the UAE do not discriminate on the basis of gender with respect to education, employment or the quality of services provided.[174]

Through several initiatives women in the UAE are playing an increasingly important role in the economy, politics and technology and are viewed by some as leaders of gender equality in the Gulf region.[175]

Discrimination in Personal Status Code

Male guardianship in the UAE prevents women from making autonomous decisions about marriage. Article 39 of the Personal Status Code states that a male guardian must conclude any marriage contract a woman enters into and has the power to request an annulment of the marriage.[176] Men on the other hand can marry up to four women. Article 56 makes it obligatory for women to "obey" their husbands.

The law in the UAE provides that a man may unilaterally divorce his wife, whereas a woman who wishes to seek a divorce must apply for a court order which is only granted on limited grounds.[177] These include failure of the husband to provide maintenance, his disappearance, or sexual desertion of his wife, or because he has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term that exceeds three years.[178]

There is an alternative for women to dissolve their marriage found under article 110 of the Personal Status Code, or khul', if the husband agrees to it in return for a financial settlement, however this means a woman relinquishes her right to the mahr – or the dowry she received as part of the marriage contract.

As to custody of children, women are considered physical guardians, they have the right to custody up to the age of 13 for girls and 10 for boys. But if a woman chooses to remarry she automatically forfeits her right to custody of her children.

Furthermore, under article 71, women who leave their husbands can be ordered to return to their marital home.

Violence against women


In one case the Federal Court sanctioned a husband's beating of his wife so long as he did not leave physical marks, and in another case a man was ordered to pay a fee for taking it too far by leaving physical injuries on his beaten wife.[179]

Furthermore, there is growing concern at the UAE's lack of action against domestic violence. Human Rights Watch has documented three cases where it was alleged that police discouraged UK nationals from reporting cases of domestic violence.[180]

A married woman in the UAE is entitled to personal financial support from her husband regardless if she has a job or not which is used for personal spending. However, she can lose her right to personal financial support from her husband if she refuses sexual relations with him without a valid excuse.[181]

Sexual assault and harassment

Women subjected to sexual assault crimes face several obstacles in seeking justice. They will often face zina charges if they report a crime committed against them.[182] Alicia Gali was imprisoned for 8 months for sex outside of marriage after reporting an assault by her co-workers.[183] A Norwegian woman was jailed for 16 months for reporting a rape before being pardoned and returned home.[184]

The credibility of the victim's allegations are called into question by the police and Courts will enquire as to whether alcohol was involved, whether the alleged perpetrator was known, and whether the victim resisted the attack.[185]

Migrant workers

According to the International Labour Organization there are 146,000 female migrant domestic workers employed in the UAE. In 2014 a Human Rights Watch report spoke to domestic workers who complained about abuse and not being paid due earnings, getting rest periods or days off and excessive workloads as well as documented cases of psychological, physical and sexual abuse.[186] The report documents how the visa sponsorship system, or kafala, and the lack of labour protections leaves migrant workers exposed to abuse.

The kafala system ties a migrant worker to their employers, who act as their sponsors and makes it difficult for them to change employers. If a domestic worker attempts to leave her sponsor before the end of her contract without her sponsor's approval she will be deemed to have "absconded" which usually results in fines and deportation.[187]

Federal law No.8 excludes domestic workers from labour laws and the environment which they work in is not regulated by the Ministry of Labour. This means domestic migrant workers have fewer rights than other migrant workers. In 2012 the government stated that the cabinet had approved a bill on domestic workers, however, Human Rights Watch has received no response to requests to obtain a draft.[188]

In January 2016, Amnesty international said UAE government continues to violate rights of migrant workers in the country. The international organization said workers have been tied with Kafalah system and denied collective bargaining rights. Amnesty also said that women workers from Asia and Africa are explicitly excluded from labour law protections and particularly vulnerable to serious abuses, including forced labour and human trafficking.[121]

In March 2019, the Human Rights Watch reported that eight Lebanese nationals have been detained by the Emirati authorities on the accusations of terrorism charges, without any evidence. The defendants have been held in prolonged solitary confinement in an unknown location for more than a year, without any access to lawyers and family members. The detainees have also been forced to sign on blank papers while some of them were blindfolded.[189][190]


Many women are in paid employment in the UAE, however articles 27, 29 and 34 of the Labour Law restrict women from working at night, working a hazardous, arduous, physically or morally detrimental job or any other work that is not specifically approved by the Ministry of Labour, and working without the consent of her husband. If a woman takes employment without her husband's consent she is deemed to be disobedient under the law.

In one case, Human Rights Watch documented that a woman who had been physically abused by her husband was in breach of the law by taking up employment without her husband's approval.[191]

Despite this, women's employment in the labour market has risen significantly and in the public sector women make up 66% of employees, with 30% of them in high level positions of responsibility.[192][193]

The UAE cabinet is made up of 27.5% women, all of whom play key roles in supporting innovation in the country with results indicating that the UAE is a new hub for women in technology.[194][195] Women represent 50 percent of scientists in STEM programmes at UAE universities and female nationals in the nuclear sector have tripled between 2014 and 2015.[196]

Political affairs

In 2004 the first woman was appointed as minister, Lubna Al Qasimi.[197] In 2006, in the first parliamentary elections, the first woman was elected to the National Federal Council and in 2016, Noura Al Kaabi was named Minister of state for the NFC. As of the end of 2009 there were four women ministers and two female ambassadors.

In addition to this the UAE is one of only two countries in the Gulf that permits women to hold the position of a judge or prosecutor, with Bahrain being the first country in the region to elect a female judge in 2006.[198][199]


Under article 340 of the Penal Code abortion is illegal in the UAE except where a woman's life is at risk or the unborn child has a genetic condition that will prove to be fatal.[200] A woman who is found to have undergone an abortion can face a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine up to Dh10,000.[201] Women that enter hospital seeking treatment for a miscarriage can be accused of attempted abortion if they are unmarried.[202]


Education has been a prime area of growth in the whole Gulf region. Primary school completion rates have grown by 15% for girls and the UAE, as well as Qatar, have the highest female-to-male ratio of university enrolments worldwide. 77% of Emirati women enrol in higher education after secondary school and make up 70% of all university graduates in the UAE.[203]

Traditionally women were encouraged to pursue female disciplines such as education and health care but this has changed recently with surges in areas such as technology and engineering. The UAE currently has four women fighter pilots and thirty trained females in the nation's special security forces.[204] In September 2014, the UAE opened the region's first military college for women, Khawla bint Al Azwar Military School. The state-of-the-art military college provides world-class training, physical fitness sessions and leadership development.

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.[205] They generally lack rights associated with citizenship and face a variety of restrictions on their rights as workers.[206][207] There are reports of undocumented Emiratis who, because of their inability to be recognized as full citizens, receive no government benefits and have no labour rights. These stateless Emiratis – also known as bidun – either migrated to the UAE before independence or were natives who failed to register as citizens.[208] In addition, there are various incidents where local individuals have ill-treated people from overseas, just on the basis of nationality or race.[209]

Emiratis receive favorability in employment via the Emiratisation program forcing companies by law to limit the number of migrant workers in a company. This is done for the purposes of stabilizing the labor market and protecting the rights of this group as a minority in their own country. At the same time, however, due to the welfare benefits of the UAE government, many Emiratis are reluctant to take up low paying jobs especially those in the private sector; private sector employers are also generally more inclined to hire overseas temporary workers as they are cheaper and can be retrenched for various reasons, for example, if they go on strike[210][211][212][213] Most UAE locals also prefer government jobs and consider private sector jobs to be below them.[214] Very few foreigners have been granted citizenship.

Migrants, mostly of South Asian origin, constitute 42.5% of the UAE's workforce[215] and have reportedly been subject to a range of human rights abuses. Workers have sometimes arrived in debt to recruitment agents from home countries and upon arrival were made to sign a new contract in English or Arabic that pays them less than had originally been agreed, although this is illegal under UAE law.[216] Further to this, some categories of workers have had their passports withheld by their employer. This practice, although illegal, is to ensure that workers do not abscond or leave the country on un-permitted trips.[217]

  • In September 2003 the government was criticised by Human Rights Watch for its inaction in addressing the discrimination against Asian workers in the emirate.[218]
  • 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.[219]
  • 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.".[220]
  • 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.[221] The consulate also reported that 109 Indian blue collar workers committed suicide in the UAE in 2006.[222]
  • 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.[223]
  • In 2007, the falling dollar meant workers were unable to service debts and the incidence of suicides among Indian workers had reportedly been on the increase.
  • Human Rights Watch reported issues during construction of Louvre Abu Dhabi museum including the confiscation of workers passports resulting in forced labour conditions[224]. High "recruitment loans" paid by migrant workers to construction companies still had not been repaid as of 2019, according to government-paid monitors. 86% of these fees were over $2000.[225]

2006 workers' riots and 2007 strike by foreign workers

On 21 March 2006, tensions boiled over at the construction site of the Burj Khalifa, 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 22 March 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.[226]

A strike by foreign workers took place in October 2007. Many were arrested, but almost all of them were released some days later.[227]

Government action

In the past, the UAE government has denied any kind of labor injustices and has stated that the accusations by Human Rights Watch were misguided.[228] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said, "Laborers will be allowed to form unions."

The strikes and negative media attention provided exposure of this regional problem and in 2008 the UAE government decreed and implemented a "midday break" during summer for construction companies, ensuring laborers were provided several hours to escape the summer heat. Illegal visa overstayers were assured amnesty and even repatriated to their home countries at the expense of friends, embassies or charities.[229]

In July 2013, a video was uploaded onto YouTube, which depicted a local driver hitting an expatriate worker, following a road related incident. Using part of his head gear, the local driver whips the expatriate and also pushes him around, before other passers-by intervene. A few days later, Dubai Police announced that both, the local driver and the person who filmed the video, have been arrested. It was also revealed that the local driver was a senior UAE government official, although the exact government department is not known.[230] The video once again brings into question the way that lower classes of foreign workers are treated. Police in November 2013, also arrested a US citizen and some UAE citizens, in connection with a YouTube parody video which allegedly portrayed Dubai in bad light.[231] The parody video was shot in areas of Satwa and depicted gangs learning how to fight using simple weapons, including shoes, the aghal, etc.

In November 2013, there was another incident involving an American broadcast professional whom after obtaining a business license from the UAE government, started an Internet music station but his ex Emirati manager used his status and connections to not only block the American website and stream, but to submit a false report to the authorities, have the American citizen arrested, jailed for 10 days, and have his passport taken away for 10 months without ever charging him. The American citizen found a way to escape Dubai and after a perilous journey in August 2014, safely made it back to the U.S.During the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Pre-session of 2017 addressing the human rights violation affairs, a UAE delegate, Ahmed Awad departed from the session after pronouncing it as a "waste of time".[232]

Labor law issues

The UAE has four main types of labor laws:

Labor laws generally favor the employer and are less focused on the rights of employees. The Ministry of Labor is criticized for loosely enforcing these laws, most notably late or no wage or overtime payment for both blue collar and white collar employees.[236][237][238]

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.[239]

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 Europe and Asia. According to the World Sex Guide, a website catering to sex tourists, Eastern European and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, while Eastern European prostitutes are part of a well-organized trans-Oceanic prostitution network.[240] 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.[241][242]

The UAE government enshrines conservative values in its constitution and therefore has adopted significant measures to combat this regional problem. The government of the UAE has worked with law enforcement officials to build capacity and awareness through holding training workshops and implementing monitoring systems to report human rights violations. Despite this, the system led to registration of only ten human-trafficking related cases in 2007 and half as many penalized convictions.[243]

Businesses participating in exploiting women and conducting illegal activities have licenses revoked and operations are forced to close. In 2007, after just one year, the efforts led to prosecution of prostitution cases rose by 30 percent. A year later, an annual report on the UAE's progress on human trafficking measures was issues and campaigns to raise public awareness of the issue are also planned.[244] Internationally, the UAE has led various efforts in combating human trafficking, particularly with the main countries of origin. The state has signed numerous bilateral agreements meant to regulate the labor being sent abroad by ensuring transactions are conducted by labor ministries and not profiting recruitment agencies.

Child camel jockeys

A 2004 HBO documentary accuses UAE citizens 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.[245]

The practice is officially banned in the UAE since the year 2002. The UAE was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys in the popular local sport of camel-racing when Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs announced the ban on 29 July 2002.[246]

Announcing the ban, Sheikh Hamdan made it very clear that "no-one would be permitted to ride camels in camel-races unless they had a minimum weight of 45 kg, and are not less than 15 years old, as stated in their passports." He said a medical committee would examine each candidate to be a jockey to check that the age stated in their passport was correct and that the candidate was medically fit. Sheikh Hamdan said all owners of camel racing stables would be responsible for returning children under 15 to their home countries. He also announced the introduction of a series of penalties for those breaking the new rules. For a first offense, a fine of 20,000 AED was to be imposed. For a second offense, the offender would be banned from participating in camel races for a period of a year, while for third and subsequent offense, terms of imprisonment would be imposed.[22]

The Ansar Burney Trust,[247] which was featured heavily in the HBO documentary, announced in 2005 that the government of the UAE began actively enforcing a ban on child camel jockeys, and that the issue "may finally be resolved".[248]

Victim support

Special funds to provide support for victims have been created such as Dubai's Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children, Abu Dhabi's Social Support Center, the Abu Dhabi Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking and the UAE Red Crescent Authority. Services offered include counseling, schooling, recreational facilities, psychological support and shelter. Mainly women and children receive assistance and in certain cases are even repatriated to their home countries.[249]

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