x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Human trafficking report doesn't give true UAE picture, says Dr Gargash

Cultural bias means the UAE may never make it past tier two in a US report on the fight against trafficking, says the head of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.

DUBAI // The UAE has taken great strides towards protecting victims of human trafficking, says Dr Anwar Gargash.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and head of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking said a ranking of the country in a recent US report on the subject was "not a bad place" to be.

The Trafficking in Persons 2013 report said the UAE was "making significant efforts" but added, "the UAE does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking".

Dr Gargash said "cultural bias" played a significant role in the report's findings.

"I think there is a certain cultural bias in terms of who gets the tier one, unfortunately, because the UAE has done a lot and from my understanding, for many countries in this region it would be very difficult for them to be in tier one," he said.

"But I don't think that is the reality to be honest, because I think many of the government reports in many ways are not current in their follow up."

He also said the report had not relied on statistics and current facts and gave an example of the report stating the UAE had no shelter for male victims of trafficking, despite recent announcements that one would soon be built soon in the capital.

The report also failed to account for updates passed by the Federal National Council to the 2006 human trafficking law that provides unprecedented legal rights for victims.

"Our targets are not the US government's reports," Dr Gargash said.

He said he was more concerned with how the UAE was viewed by international organisations, which "are more expert in this subject".

"Whether human rights councils or other more specific organisations, they are very appreciative of the UAE's efforts," said Dr Gargash.

"Of course they have some comments and I think what you see with the opening of the male shelter is basically a response to some of the comments."

Cases involving male victims of trafficking are quite rare in the UAE, he said.

The US report noted the UAE worked to battle sex trafficking but failed to recognise labour trafficking cases, which it believed to be the "largest group of trafficking victims within the country".

"Instead, authorities recognised potential forced labour cases as labour violations, particularly if potential victims were over the age of 18 and had entered the country voluntarily," the report read.

Dr Gargash said the report did not take into account that labour cases were rare and sexual exploitation cases were the most prevalent.

The report conceded the most recent annual report from the committee included data on labour cases reported by the Ministry of Labour, but said they lacked detail.

It recommended that the UAE reform the sponsorship system, stop employers from holding passports, and increase efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish labour-trafficking offences, and convict and punish offenders, including recruitment agents.

Similar recommendations were made in the UN International Labour Organisation's report, Tricked and Trapped.

"We do not ignore comments, we learn from them," said Dr Gargash. "And I think we always have to keep an open mind.

"But I have to say in our national effort our aim is not to score high points in this report or that report, but to make it clear to everybody that the UAE will not tolerate this heinous crime, will be tough on it, and will protect its society and protect its reputation in being an attractive society for all."

Last year, the Government referred for prosecution 47 cases involving 149 sex-trafficking suspects. Ninety-one were convicted. Sentences ranged from a year to life imprisonment.

The US report praised the heavy penalties and the Government's progress in providing protection to sex-trafficking victims.