DUBAI // The UAE yesterday welcomed being held to a high standard on labour issues, but criticised the "tabloid style" and a "sensationalist" assessment of human rights in the country by a New York-based watchdog.
Humaid bin Deemas, the undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour, was responding to the annual Human Rights Watch review, World Report 2011, which was released yesterday in Dubai.
"The UAE welcomes the fact that international human and labour rights advocacy groups choose to hold the UAE to high standards when reporting on the conditions of foreign workers in our country, which aspires to be a model in region," Mr bin Deemas said in a statement released through the state news agency, WAM.
"The ministry believes actions taken by the UAE over the past years to protect foreign workers raise the expectations of the international community that workers in the UAE will be extended full protection under UAE laws, and accepts the increasing level of international scrutiny."
But he added: "The ministry believes tabloid-style advocacy of human and labour rights does a disservice to the very cause of human rights of foreign workers, and undermines the credibility of the advocating organisation."
At the launch of their report, HRW representatives spoke of the need to lift restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and to improve conditions for female domestic workers and the migrant workforce in general.
In his response, Mr bin Deemas pointed to positive steps taken by the Government that included the introduction of the Wage Protection System.
“The ministry takes issue with the sensationalist reporting by HRW on the plight of workers who were laid off from their UAE jobs in 2010, at a time when job loss due to the global economic downturn was for the overwhelming part dealt with in an orderly fashion,” he said.
Mr bin Deemas also invited HRW to examine recent changes in the regulations on the right of workers to change employers, of which HRW appeared to have “an insufficient understanding”, he said.
The 649-page report is HRW’s 21st annual review of human rights around the world and covers more than 90 countries. Its worldwide launch took place in Brussels on Tuesday.
In previous years, HRW focused on the rights and conditions of workers, organised labour and human trafficking. The HRW report referred to “encouraging steps” taken by the Government to improve conditions for migrant workers, such as the extension of the compulsory midday break from two to three months of the year. Efforts to combat human trafficking were also described as a move in the right direction.
But the group alleged that numerous human rights issues “remained unresolved”.
Among the annual report’s regional focuses was the need to recognise the work of human rights defenders across the Arab world, said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
“They are ordinary citizens who are demanding their rights and their freedoms in their own countries,” she said. “They are people who are working over many years with dedicated efforts, often at great personal cost and risk to themselves, to simply tell their governments that they want their rights.”
“One of the big issues in the UAE in 2010 was the Government stifling and harassing human rights defenders and lawyers,” said Samer Muscati, an HRW researcher.
Ahmed Mansoor, an activist and blogger who addressed yesterday’s press conference, said: “My love for my country and my social responsibility oblige me to work for the interests of the country. Freedom and rights should not be the price we pay for a good lifestyle.”
Another activist who spoke yesterday, Mohammed al Mansoori, the former president of the Jurist Association, said he had been unable to travel since 2008 after authorities refused to renew his passport.
Representatives from the UAE’s only registered rights organisation, the Emirates Human Rights Association, were among those who attended yesterday’s launch. Mohammed al Kaabi, the vice-chair of the association’s board, said that while they welcomed
HRW’s work the group had a tendency to focus on “negative things”.
“In general, we agree: conditions should improve. But they said that in 2010 human rights conditions worsened in the UAE. This is wrong,” he said. The association will study the report and release a response in the next week.”