Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai following the death of his brother, Shaikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in January.
In February, the UAE Society for Human Rights was established as the country's first non-governmental human rights organization. Full membership of the organization was limited to UAE nationals but non-nationals could become associate members.
In November the Prime Minister announced measures to regulate the labour market and improve conditions for foreign migrant workers, including a health insurance scheme, fixed working hours for domestic workers and the establishment of a special court to resolve labour disputes.
Also in November, the President issued a federal law against human trafficking, which prescribes penalties ranging from one year to life imprisonment.
In December, nearly 6,600 UAE nationals selected by the rulers of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE voted in the first elections to be held since the country became independent in 1971. They elected 20 members to the 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory body with no legislative powers and whose other members are directly appointed by the rulers of the seven Emirates. Sixty-three women candidates stood for election but only one was voted onto the FNC.
Death penalty and cruel judicial punishments
In June, in the Emirate of Fujairah, a Shari'a (Islamic) court imposed a sentence of death by stoning on Shahin 'Abdul Rahman, a Bangladeshi national, after convicting him of adultery with Asma Bikham Bijam, a migrant domestic worker, who was sentenced to receive a flogging of 100 lashes and to be imprisoned for one year. Ten days later the sentence of death by stoning against Shahin 'Abdul Rahman was commuted on appeal and he received a one-year prison sentence followed by deportation to his home country. However, the sentence of flogging against Asma Bikham Bijam was upheld on appeal. It was not known whether it was carried out.
Risk of forcible return
In March Gazain Marri, a Pakistani national from the Baloch community, was arrested in Dubai and detained in Abu Dhabi. No charges were known to have been brought against him and there was concern that he might be forcibly returned to Pakistan where he would be at risk of serious human rights violations including torture. However, he was reported to have been released at the end of August.
There was similar concern after Riad 'Abdullah Laila, a Syrian national and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was detained on arrival at Dubai airport in April, reportedly at the request of the Syrian authorities. He had been living as a refugee in Iraq since 1980. However, he too was reported to have been released uncharged and allowed to travel to a third country in May.
Human rights defenders
Two prominent human rights activists, who had been barred from giving interviews or writing articles for the local media for several years, were subjected to harassment.
• Mohamed 'Abdullah al-Roken, a lawyer and former President of the UAE's Jurists' Association, was detained twice, in July and August, by State Security (Amn al-Dawla) officials. During his three-day detention in August, his interrogators reportedly threatened to close down his office and drugged his food. He was prevented from using the bathroom. Mohamed 'Abdullah al-Roken was released without charge but his passport was confiscated.
• In June an arrest warrant was issued against human rights activist Mohamed al-Mansoori, a lawyer and President of the Jurists' Association, after he was accused of "insulting the Public Prosecutor". He had given several interviews to international news media in which he criticized the human rights situation in UAE. Mohamed al-Mansoori was abroad and was not arrested.
In August, attempts were made to bring criminal charges against Sharla Musabih, founder of the City of Hope Women's shelter in Dubai. She and others alleged the charges were politically motivated and intended to force the closure of the shelter, which provides support for women and children survivors of violence.