x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE faces questions over rights record

The Government's delegation to the UAE's first UN human rights review is ready to present a "positive track record", its leader said.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Federal National Council Affairs gestures during a press briefing.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Federal National Council Affairs gestures during a press briefing.

GENEVA // The Government's delegation to the UAE's first UN human rights review, being held later today, is ready to present a "positive track record", its leader said. Today's discussion will cover the country's human rights record, obligations and challenges, with Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Federal National Council Affairs, pointing to the recent improvements made.

"The UAE is ready to present its national human rights report to the council," he said. "We believe we have a positive track record to present, having worked hard to improve our performance on various issues related to human rights." Dr Gargash arrived in the Swiss city yesterday ahead of today's three-hour session, during which he will address the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The UAE's 25-member delegation will stand before the council as Dr Gargash presents the report, responding to both submitted questions and those from the council floor.

The delegation includes representatives of government departments, ministries, and civil society. Among those travelling to Geneva for the session are: Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a member of the FNC; Afra al Basti, the head of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children; Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the executive director of the Ministry of State for FNC Affairs; and Mohammed al Murr, the director of the human rights department at Dubai Police. "Our delegation welcomes the constructive feedback and recommendations from fellow member states of the United Nations," Dr Gargash said.

The UAE is appearing before the UN's top rights body as part of a process introduced this year known as the Universal Periodic Review, which will see the rights record of all 192 UN member states examined every four years. Dr Gargash has previously identified labour issues as an area where improvements need to be made in the UAE, indicating that one way forward would be to open broader discussions on introducing a minimum wage.

He had also indicated that the UAE's first national report could be used to measure future progress. The 47-member UN council describes the process as an "interactive dialogue" that aims to improve human rights conditions around the world. The final outcome of the reviews will include recommendations for each state to implement. Bahrain was the first country to go before the council under the periodic review system, which started at the beginning of this year. The UAE is among 16 states whose human rights records are being examined during the third and final session of the year, which started on Monday and runs until Dec 15.

Other countries appearing before the council include Colombia, Burkina Faso, Serbia and Israel, which will stand before the council this afternoon. Yesterday, the council focused on the human rights records of Barbados and Montenegro. The UAE's review will be based on a national human rights report, along with two corresponding reports - one compiled by UN agencies and another with contributions from organisations, including Amnesty International, Mafiwasta, Al Karama for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights.

The UAE report, published in Arabic and English, was compiled over the summer and made public when it was submitted to the UN council in September. The committee responsible for the document has said it includes inputs from government bodies, as well as civil society groups such as the General Women's Union and the UAE jurists and journalists associations. The report was the first human rights assessment ever released by the Government. According to the committee that prepared it, the aim was "to present the efforts made by the United Arab Emirates in the field of human rights and the degree to which it abides by national laws and ratified agreements and charters, and to present the actual state of human rights".

The report also acknowledged that there was more to be done on issues including workers' and women's rights in the country. However, the three reports present divergent views on the UAE's human rights culture and record, with the UN assessment urging measures including the establishment of an "independent national human rights institution". One concern raised was that children born to Emirati women married to foreign nationals are not granted citizenship. It also commented on positive developments, such as the appointment of women to high positions within the education and government sectors.

The report compiled by seven human rights organisations alleged rights violations, including discrimination and mistreatment of migrant workers, but also noted some improvements, including in the fight against human trafficking. While the rights groups will be able to only observe today's discussions, they were said to have raised their concerns with members of the Human Rights Council. After today's session, three states appointed by the council - Cameroon, Indonesia and Argentina - will discuss with the UAE any recommendations stemming from the review. On Dec 9, the final UAE report is scheduled to be adopted.

In March next year, a follow-up session will be held when the outcomes of the UAE's review are to be adopted by the council. At that time, the Government, council members and rights organisations will all be able to take part in discussions. A live webcast of today's session will be broadcast via the Human Rights Council's website from noon. Visit www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil to view it.

@Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae