ABU DHABI // The UAE has taken giant strides toward improving human rights in the past four years and the Government will continue to be transparent in its efforts, the United Nations was told yesterday.
"While we recognise that the UAE will continually need to review and enhance its efforts to protect human rights, the level of protection of human rights already achieved represents a significant success," said Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and FNC Affairs.
Dr Gargash made his comments during a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, the state news agency Wam reported last night. The council examines the rights record of all 192 UN member states every four years. The UAE's first report was submitted in December 2008.
Dr Gargash outlined the laws, national policies and recommendations put in place since the last review, including initiatives aimed at increasing political participation, accommodating those with disabilities, protecting children and bolstering rights for women.
"The dialogue we are having with the international community in Geneva today represents an unparalleled opportunity for our nation to bolster efforts to promote transparency and inclusion in our approach to promoting human rights," Dr Gargash said.
"It is an opportunity we fully embrace and value," Dr Gargash said.
After the last review, the UAE adopted 36 out of 74 human-rights recommendations made by the council. It rejected some others, including calls to abolish the death penalty, extend freedom of assembly and association, and grant migrant workers more rights. It also made nine voluntary pledges of its own. Dr Gargash said more than 90 per cent of those policies were implemented.
In 2010, the UAE set up a committee specifically "to support the objective of ensuring that we are following through on our commitments under the [review]", Dr Gargash said. The presented report was compiled in March last year after workshops and meetings with civil society organisations and government bodies.
"We take pride in our achievements but we are never satisfied with the status quo," Dr Gargash said.
"Let me be clear: we are facing challenges. I will not stand here in front of you, and say that we have a spotless record in the UAE. Indeed, I am not aware of any country that does.
"In a difficult and unstable region, and in a country with a rapidly growing population, a large percentage of whom are expatriates, our approach to human rights is inevitably an evolving one.
"What we do have is a strong commitment to improve the situation. I can assure you that the UAE government takes concerns of any possible violation of human rights very seriously and that we are constantly working on strengthening our capacity to respond to these."
The delegation listed existing laws that have been amended, new legislation and approved Cabinet decisions.
They include new protection for people with disabilities, prohibiting the sale or supply of tobacco to children under 18, establishing a manual on standards for shared housing of workers, protection of the rights of people living with HIV and regulating care for foster children.
The report also mentions laws that have been drafted and approved by the Cabinet but have not yet been applied. They include regulating the employment of domestic staff, raising the compulsory school age to 18, children's rights, health insurance and a federal bill on combating infectious diseases.
During an interactive session with other member states, many of the questions posed during the presentation centred on the UAE's record on extending rights to labourers and migrant workers.
The UAE delegation highlighted past accomplishments, including enacting legislation guaranteeing protections for domestic workers.
"The UAE has an extensive strategy for safeguarding the rights of workers and improving their work and living conditions," Dr Gargash said.
"This is a matter of national interest, as well as a human rights issue, as foreign workers are our development partners and their contribution to the growth of our economy is invaluable. We are fully committed to the goal of strengthening the rights of workers so that they can enjoy opportunity in the UAE, free of any form of abuse or exploitation."
The Human Rights Council will present the UAE with a formal set of recommendations on how to further promote human rights. The UAE will then be expected to study those recommendations and say which of the recommendations it has chosen to accept and how it intends to implement them.