Women and foreign migrant workers faced legal and other discrimination. Hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese long-term residents were ordered to leave the country on the grounds of national security. A defendant in a terrorism trial alleged that he was tortured in pre-trial detention. At least 13 people were sentenced to death; no executions were reported.
A proposed draft media law was adopted by the Federal National Council (parliament) in January. It was criticized by journalists, lawyers and others because of its adverse implications for media freedom. It had not been ratified by the end of the year.
In March, the government pledged to implement 36 of 74 recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2008 during its Universal Periodic Review of human rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These included recommendations relating to women’s rights, the rights of migrant workers and the ratification of international human rights treaties. However, the government said it would not abolish the death penalty or allow workers substantive rights, such as the right to form a trade union.
In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the UAE authorities to improve protection of the rights of foreign workers. In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism urged the authorities to regularize the situation of Bidun, who remain stateless and so barred from accessing certain categories of employment as well as state health care and other services.
In October, the UAE President issued a decree concerning mobilization in response to internal or external threats to national security. Among other things, the decree provides for the imposition of the death penalty against people convicted of disclosing information that harms the state.
Counter-terror and security
In September, seven UAE nationals and one Afghan national were tried in Abu Dhabi before the Federal Supreme Court on terrorism-related charges. The eight were believed to have been among 21 people arrested in October 2008; charges against 13 others were dropped and they were released. In October, six of the eight defendants were released on bail, apparently to await trial in 2010. Some of those arrested were alleged to have been tortured in detention.
- In October, Naji Hamdan, a US national, was convicted on terrorism-related charges after a closed trial before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. He denied the charges. He was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, but was released in November and deported.
The authorities ordered hundreds of long-term foreign residents to leave the country on national security grounds. Those affected were Palestinians, notably from Gaza, and Lebanese Shi’a Muslims. Some were said to have been resident in the UAE for up to 30 years.
Torture and other ill-treatment
- Naji Hamdan (see above) said in court that he had been tortured in pre-trial detention by being strapped into “an electric chair” and beaten about the head until he lost consciousness. Neither the court nor the responsible authorities appeared to take any steps to investigate his allegations.
- In May, the authorities arrested Shaikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, after the broadcasting abroad of footage taken in 2004 in which he appeared to be torturing a man with an electric cattle prod. The authorities said they had previously investigated the incident and had taken no action because the matter had been settled privately between the perpetrator and the victim. The Shaikh was charged together with six others, including some in their absence; their trial was continuing at the end of 2009.
Discrimination – women and migrant workers
Women continued to suffer discrimination in law and practice. Foreign migrant workers, who make up a large proportion of the UAE’s workforce and many of whom are employed in construction, faced exploitation, abuse and poor living conditions. Media reports suggested that some women survivors of rape did not report the crime to the police for fear that they would be charged with engaging in illicit sex.
- Marnie Pearce, a UK national, was released in April after she had served 68 days of a three-month sentence imposed for adultery, which is prohibited in the UAE even when carried out in private between consenting adults. Adultery is punishable by death although lesser punishments can be imposed. The law covering adultery and its application have had a discriminatory impact on women.
Thirteen men were sentenced to death by courts in Dubai and Sharjah; no executions were known to have been carried out.
- In June, the Supreme Court set aside the death sentence imposed on Shahid Bolsen because he had not had access to a lawyer at his trial.