x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

UAE victims of human-trafficking assured of legal rights

After much wrangling over the language of the human trafficking law, it is ready to go to the president.

ABU DHABI // Legal rights have been secured for victims of human trafficking after a long debate between the FNC and government officials.

Amendments were made to the 2006 trafficking law to help the UAE adhere to the Palermo agreement, an international legal protocol attached to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

But the amendments did not come without a struggle, as council members feared changing the wording of the law would allow prostitution to be labelled as trafficking.

Protection to witnesses was also limited after the government officials protested. Council members voted to include beggars under the umbrella of trafficked victims.

But most of the three-hour debate - among the FNC, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs and head of the National Centre to Combat Human Trafficking, and Dr Hadef Al Dhaheri, the Minister of Justice - was spent on how the law defines a victim.

While the human trafficking committee wanted to keep all references as daheya, or victim, many council members insisted on using majni alayhim, stipulating that the victim could be prosecuted for other crimes. Daheya gives the victim legal protection.

"We will go backwards if we use the term majni alayhim instead of daheya," Dr Gargash said.

Ahmed Al Zaabi (Sharjah) said using daheya would "open the door to anyone to come here and be free from punishment".

Mr Al Zaabi said most human-trafficking cases in the country were of sexual exploitation.

Dr Gargash assured him it was not simple to turn a prostitution case into a trafficking case.

"It is very complicated," he said. "Do not think this means we will have hundreds of cases. Every year we have about 30 or 25 cases."

Afra Al Basti (Dubai), who works at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which deals with trafficking victims, agreed with Dr Gargash.

Ms Al Basti said there were a string of requirements for a case to be considered human trafficking.

"We cannot call prostitutes victims. We should not have a fear for this," she said. "Human trafficking cases are different. I say this is a humanitarian crime and they are daheya, not majni alayhim."

A majority later voted to keep daheya.

But the Government was not as successful in convincing the council not to include beggars under the umbrella of trafficked victims.

They will now enjoy the same benefits as a victim if it is found that they were brought into the country against their will.

The Government's main objection was that the addition of beggars would pose a financial burden, but members said it had become a trade that needed to be stopped.

The amendments will now be passed to the President Sheikh Khalifa for final approval.