x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Government welcomes human rights report

Preliminary findings of a UN expert who spent a week touring the UAE are 'a step forward in the process of constructive dialogue'

ABU DHABI // The Government yesterday welcomed the preliminary findings of a UN human rights expert who spent a week touring the UAE. Githu Muigai, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, yesterday concluded his week-long mission to the UAE, during which he travelled to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah.

"I came here with the desire to obtain a better understanding of the UAE, to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Government and to prepare a report with positive recommendations," he said. The visit marked the first to the UAE by one of the UN's 30 independent human-rights experts or working groups that constitute the special rapporteurs. It came after the invitation was extended by the Government during the country's universal periodic review before the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

His findings, released yesterday at a press conference, were based on meetings with government officials, as well as representatives from the non-governmental sector, academics, lawyers and members of the public. Among Mr Muigai's recommendations were for a more transparent process for granting citizenship, resolving issues related to stateless people, and protections for migrant workers. "The Government welcomes the UN rapporteur's appraisal and views it as a step forward in the process of constructive dialogue towards addressing the challenges that the country faces," Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said in a statement released by the state news agency, WAM.

Mr Muigai highlighted the efforts made to improve the situation of migrant workers, including setting up direct channels with the Ministry of Labour, and a system to ensure payment of wages. He also said he had heard testimony about the issue of stateless people, or bidoons, and the discrimination they suffer in terms of access to employment, education, housing and health care. In his report, he also underscored the issue of maternal citizenship rights, urging the authorities to amend existing legislation to allow Emirati women to pass their nationality to their children.

In March, Dr Gargash said a national debate was needed on laws that prevent Emirati women from passing their nationality to their children. Mr Muigai singled out the Dubai Community Development Authority for its human rights strategy. "It is my hope that such an institution could be turned in the very near future into a fully fledged - national institution on human rights with an oversight mandate, including the monitoring of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," he said.

Mr Muigai added: "With more than 180 nationalities represented on its soil, the UAE has undoubtedly become one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth." But the influx, he said, has also brought challenges, particularly relating to the preservation of national identity. He urged an "open debate" on a transparent system for citizenship for long-term UAE residents. Fluency in Arabic and in-depth knowledge of the culture, history and traditions of the UAE could be prerequisites, he said.

All rapporteurs produce a report after their country visits, which is then submitted to the Human Rights Council and discussed by member states. It is expected that the UAE report will be presented during the council session in June 2010. Najat M'jid Maalla, the special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, is due to visit the UAE next week. Mr Muigai, a Kenyan human rights lawyer, said the Government had demonstrated "openness" throughout his visit and stressed that he had undertaken the mission with an "open mind and without any preconceived ideas".

"The Government looks forward to further engagement with the Human Rights Council in the pursuit of fulfilling the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Dr Gargash said. "The findings are a recognition of the UAE's efforts to promote and develop human rights along international standards." zconstantine@thenational.ae