x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Accounts differ on human rights

The UAE's record on human rights is to be examined by the UN following the commissioning of three reports that each present a different view of the country's progress.

UNITED NATIONS // The UAE's record on human rights is to be examined by the UN following the commissioning of three reports that each present a different view of the country's progress. The assessments, respectively compiled by the Government, UN observers and a group of non-governmental organisations, will be used as yardsticks as the UAE makes its debut before the UN's Human Rights Council in December.

The UAE report was written by a committee headed by Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Federal National Council (FNC) Affairs, who has previously welcomed the opportunity to show that the UAE was "on the road to our goal of building an equitable and just society based on the principles of tolerance and fairness". The council will also view the 12-page report by human rights organisations, which includes contributions from such rights groups as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Mafiwasta and Al Karama for Human Rights.

Amnesty alleges that women suffer discriminatory laws and practices, including a nationality law that prevents Emirati women from passing the benefits of citizenship to their children if they marry a foreigner. Despite being illegal, the retention of passports is "commonplace" according to the report, which also criticises the ban on trade unions. "Unlike citizens, migrant workers, comprising 95 per cent of the workforce, can be summarily dismissed if, for instance, an employer does not wish to pay wages or end of service contract benefits," the report says.

While the Government says it is working hard to improve the situation of labourers, advocacy groups such as Mafiwasta and HRW claim progress is too slow. The report accuses the state of benefiting from migrant workers being forced into "debt bondage" by corrupt employers. The advocacy groups describe public participation in politics as "virtually non-existent and freedom of opinion, expression and association are restricted".

Press freedom, the report claims, cannot exist when officials license newspapers, monitor their content and oversee the appointment of editors. The UN report, meanwhile, which was prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes a number of improvements in the UAE's record, while adding that issues such as women's rights and the administration of justice require more work. The report refers to prisoners who alleged to have been mistreated while in custody.

The UAE, in its report, concedes more needs to be done to aid women, but says great strides have already been made in that area. The reports are part of the Universal Periodic Review, where all 192 UN members appear before the council for a three-hour meeting every four years. Human Rights Watch initially described the Universal Periodic Review as "the most innovative and ambitious instrument of the council", but after the inaugural session the system was criticised for not being tough enough on rights violators.

The 47-member Human Rights Council started the periodic review system earlier this year with Bahrain the first country to undergo assessment. The schedule of nations was decided by lottery and, by the end of 2012, all UN members will have had their human rights records examined, at which point the four-year cycle returns to the beginning and states appear a second time. Following the UAE's assessment on Dec 4, envoys of three council members will act as "special rapporteurs" and compile recommendations.

Although the UAE will not be bound by the recommendations, a UN spokesman said officials were "encouraged to take action" to curb human rights violations and would have to answer for any inaction upon returning to the chamber four years later. jreinl@thenational.ae zconstantine@thenational.ae