x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE University puts greater emphasis on human rights

UAE University's law school is putting more emphasis on human rights to prepare prospective lawyers for dealing with the new issues faced by a modernising society.

UAE University's law school is putting more emphasis on human rights to prepare prospective lawyers for dealing with the new issues faced by a modernising society. The college's vice dean, Dr Mohammed al Qassimi, said: "Students are becoming more aware of the domestic issues such as the rights of labourers." "We think it's important for our students to know what the rights are and to understand the rules and regulations, and to know if they are in accordance with international law."

Last year, the school began offering an elective course for first-year students focusing on human rights, but studying international law is compulsory. Dr al Qassimi said new lawyers would be much better equipped to deal with these "controversial" issues than those who graduated before them were. Students are increasingly exposed to visiting lecturers from around the world as well as seminars on topics such as the rights of the accused and general humanitarian law.

Joseph Brand, a specialist in human rights law and a senior partner at the Washington-based firm Patton Boggs, which recently signed a deal to offer work placements for students, said the undergraduates are forward-thinking and will spearhead the country's advances in human rights. "In their first year, they study the UN Declaration of Human Rights," he said. "You don't even do this in the US." He said that the issues in the UAE are no different than those in the US or Europe, and that the country has "recognised the instruments to practice human rights and the importance of educating the population on human rights. It is very attuned to the issue".

"Everyone is very interested in this area," said Ahmed Al Awbthani, a law student. He added that the UAE is "doing well on human rights", citing the establishment of the labourers' court in the capital and the national human rights council. "[Human rights] is a very important element of our course, which is becoming more important over time," said the 22-year-old from Abu Dhabi, who graduates this summer. "It will be very useful when we get into the workplace."

It is not just lawyers in non-governmental organisations [NGOs] or working for governments who can make a difference, said Mr Brand, who is based in Washington but has been consulting in the UAE for 40 years. It is vital, he said, that students going on to pursue specialities such as commercial law have a thorough grasp of the topic as they too can make a "big difference". "It is these students working for big corporations who must have a grasp of human rights as, ultimately, they're the ones on the ground making a difference, often more so than those people in NGOs and working for the government," he said. "If these companies can be involved in human rights, it is very useful."

mswan@thenational.ae