x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE accepts 'valuable' advice on racial tension

UN report suggests expatriates should debate with Emiratis, to avoid the potential for racial tension in the UAE.

Steps need to be taken to avoid the potential for racial tension in the UAE, the Government acknowledged during a discussion at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UAE was responding to a report presented by Githu Muigai, the UN special rapporteur on racism and related intolerance, which warned that failure to address the issue of national identity could lead to racial antagonism. Obaid al Zaabi, the UAE Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said Mr Muigai's comments were "valuable" and conceded that more needs to be done.

"We reiterate our resolve to put an end to this phenomenon without ignoring the challenges that we are still facing in this domain," he said. "The UAE fully understands the reasons behind some of the conclusions and recommendations that have been forwarded to remedy some issues such as national identity and the right to acquire nationality and other issues. We do realise that we must do more and put more effort in this."

Mr al Zaabi outlined the Government's efforts to counter racism, citing provisions in the judicial system as well as religious freedom and efforts to combat human trafficking. However, he also stressed the UAE's right to tackle this issue according to its own "higher interests". Mr Muigai's final report, released in March this year, was based on his meetings with government officials, academics, lawyers and members of the public.

Among his main recommendation was the need for a public debate on the issue of national identity involving Emiratis and expatriates. While acknowledging that the UAE is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, Mr Muigai found that its demographic make-up has also raised related issues, particularly with regard to national identity and social integration. "There are indeed serious concerns among Emirati citizens that this significant influx of foreign workers, both skilled and unskilled, has somehow altered the national identity of the country," his report stated. The issue of ensuring the rights of migrants workers should be dealt with as a national priority, Mr Muigai said. With over 80 per cent of the population expatriate, the issue of national identity is already an emotive issue. The Government sees the population imbalance as a serious issue and members of the Federal National Council (FNC) have called it a "threat to national security". The issues could have an impact on the "peaceful coexistence of the great variety of ethnic and national groups" in the country if they were not addressed, Mr Muigai said. Among other matters, he also urged the Government to address what he called a "severe risk" of exploitation within the migrant workforce. He also underscored the issue of maternal citizenship rights, urging authorities to amend existing legislation to allow Emirati women to pass their nationality down to their children. Mr Muigai accepted a Government invitation to a week-long mission last October, during which he travelled to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah. His visit was the first by one of the UN's 30 independent human-rights experts or working groups. The report recommended the enactment of specific anti-racism legislation, citing the anti-human trafficking Law 51 as a good example, and called for the creation of a national human rights institution to monitor issues, including racism, in every emirate. After the session, Mr Muigai said he was pleased with the UAE's position that steps need to be taken to prevent racism. "To the extent that there was an affirmation that dialogue is necessary, and that they found it useful and are activating some of the issues raised, I consider this successful," he said. However, the real test will come when the Government's response to the recommendations is reviewed again in three years, he said. Mr al Zaabi assured the council during yesterday's session that Mr Muigai's report has been disseminated to the relevant government departments. zconstantine@thenational.ae