x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US criticism 'disappointing'

The Government is 'disappointed' that the UAE has been put back on a watch list of countries cited for their records on human trafficking.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, criticises the US State Department report on human trafficking.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, criticises the US State Department report on human trafficking.

ABU DHABI // The Government reacted with "disappointment" to the news yesterday that the UAE had been put back on a watch list of countries cited for their records on human trafficking. Immediately after the US State Department report was released, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, called its findings "disappointing and distorted", arguing that it failed to assess the country's anti-trafficking efforts over the year, according to WAM, the state news agency.

"The UAE Government is deeply disappointed by the subjective and inaccurate assessment in this report," said Dr Gargash, who is also chairman of the UAE National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. The Trafficking in Human Persons Report 2009, released yesterday, said: "The Government of the United Arab Emirates does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant, and increasingly public, efforts to do so."

The UAE was placed back on the State Department's Tier 2 Watch List, having been removed last year. Its reinstatement places it alongside 76 other countries, including Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Yemen, India and Pakistan. It had also been on the watch list in 2006 and 2007. The report explains that the list is of governments that do not comply with minimum victim protection standards laid out in US legislation or that fail to provide evidence of efforts to address human trafficking, and nations in which the number of victims is significant or on the rise.

The State Department found that the Government had demonstrated sustained efforts to prosecute and convict sex trafficking offenders, making "modest progress" on protecting the female victims. However, the report said the country was placed back on the watch list for its views - or lack of them - on "labour trafficking". The "forced labour" of temporary migrant workers in the construction industry and of domestic servants was "likely the most prevalent form of trafficking in the country", the report said.

It said the Emirates "failed to recognise" that even if people are over 18 and come to the country voluntarily, they can still become victims of human trafficking if their employers engage them in involuntary servitude or debt bondage, withhold their passports or pay, or subject them to threats or verbal, physical or sexual abuse, it said. The Government regularly refers potential victims to the Ministry of Labour, not the police, and does not provide them with adequate protection, the report said, noting also that domestic workers are not covered by the country's labour laws and have little protection from abuse.

Dr Gargash took issue with the inclusion of labour violations in the definition of human trafficking, arguing that the US "varies" its definition every year according to its domestic climate. "It is incongruous to equate alleged labour rights violations, which are a critical but separate issue, to the coercive and unacceptable sexual exploitation of women for profit," he said. "This report lumps all these issues together in a manner that is generalised and unconstructive."

Dr Gargash wondered how the State Department could call the Emirates "a model in the region" in the last report and overlook its efforts on sex trafficking throughout all of last year. He cited the 2008 annual report of the UAE committee to combat trafficking, which noted that 20 cases of sex trafficking were registered last year, compared with 10 in 2007, and that there had been an increase in the number of prosecutions and severity of punishments, with two people receiving life sentences, and six others convicted.

The US report offered a number of recommendations for the Emirates, including that it increase its efforts to investigate and prosecute those involved in labour exploitation. @Email:amcqueen@thenational.ae