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Human rights in Dubai

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Human rights in Dubai

Dubai has approximately 250,000 laborers, mostly South Asian, working on real estate development projects such as the Dubai Marina.

Human rights in Dubai are based on the Constitution and enacted law, which supposedly promise equitable treatment of all people, regardless of race, nationality or social status, per Article 25 of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates. Despite this, Freedom House has stated: "Extreme forms of self-censorship are widely practiced, particularly regarding issues such as local politics, culture, religion, or any other subject the government deems politically or culturally sensitive. The Dubai Media Free Zone (DMFZ), an area in which foreign media outlets produce print and broadcast material intended for foreign audiences, is the only arena in which the press operates with relative freedom."[1]

Human rights organizations have complained about violations of human rights in Dubai.[2] Most notably, some of the 250,000 foreign laborers in the city have been alleged to live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being "less than humane."[3][4][5][6] The mistreatment of foreign workers was a subject of the disputed 2009 documentary, Slaves of Dubai.[7]

Foreign workers and Labour rights

Construction workers from Asia on top floor of the Angsana Tower

Article 25 of the Constitution of the UAE provides for the equitable treatment of persons with regard to race, nationality, religious beliefs or social status. However, in reality there are very few anti-discrimination laws in relation to labour issues, with full UAE locals being given preferential treatment when it comes to employment, even though they generally show minimal interest in working.[8] Foreign laborers in Dubai often live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being "less than humane",[5][6][9] and was the subject of the documentary, Slaves of Dubai.[7] A 2006 NPR report quoted Baya Sayid Mubarak, the Indian consul for labor and welfare in Dubai, as saying "the city's economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid construction workers from the Indian sub-continent". The NPR report stated that foreign construction workers lived "eight and ten to a room in labor camps" and that "many are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt, which amounts to little more than indentured servitude."[10]

[11] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: "Labourers will be allowed to form unions".[12]

A 2006 NPR report quoted Baya Sayid Mubarak, the Indian consul for labor and welfare in Dubai, as saying "the city's economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid construction workers from the Indian sub-continent". The NPR report alleged that foreign construction workers lived "eight and ten to a room in labor camps", and that "many are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt, which amounts to little more than indentured servitude."[13] The BBC has reported that "local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end. They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed."[14] Additionally, some of the workers have allegedly been forced to give up their passports upon entering Dubai, making it difficult to return home. In September 2005, the Minister of Labour ordered one company to pay unpaid salaries within 24 hours after workers protested, and published the name of the offending company.[15]

In December 2005, the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labor problems faced by Indian expatriates in the emirate. The report highlighted delayed payment of wages, substitution of employment contracts, premature termination of services and excessive working hours as being some of the challenges faced by Indian workers in the city.

On 21 March 2006, workers at the construction site of Burj Khalifa, upset over bus timings and working conditions, rioted, damaging cars, offices, computers, and construction tools.[16][17][18][19] The global financial crisis has caused the working class of Dubai to be affected especially badly, with many workers not being paid but also being unable to leave the country.[20]

The city's discriminatory legal system and unequal treatment of foreigners has been brought to light by its attempts to cover up information on the 2007 rape of Alexandre Robert, a 15-year-old French-Swiss national, by three locals, one of whose HIV-positive status was hidden by the authorities for several months [21] and by the recent mass imprisonment of migrant laborers, most of whom were from Asia, on account of their protests against poor wages and living conditions.[22] Despite protests by Human Rights Watch and several governments, companies allegedly continue to take the passports of workers and refuse to pay promised salaries. These practices have been labeled as "modern slavery" by some organizations.[23] In 2013, a European national by the name of Marte Dalelv, was arrested and jailed on trumped up charges.

The labour injustices in Dubai - and wider UAE - have attracted the attention of various foreign governments and Human Rights groups, which have tried to persuade the local government to become a signatory to two of the [24] Towards the end of March 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions. UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: "Labourers will be allowed to form unions."[25]

Prior to the mid 2000s, camel owners made use of child jockeys, most of whom were kids kidnapped from other parts of the world. After international outcry, the country decided to slowly put an end to this malpractice.[26] There are still, however, some violations of this ban.[27]

There are various examples of local folk ill-treating people, just on the basis of nationality or race. In one instance, a local taxi passenger caused a serious injury to a foreign taxi driver. The passenger told the driver that he was an Emirati and did not listen to the drivers reasonable instructions. [28]

Sharia law

Homosexuality is illegal. The death penalty is one of the punishments for homosexuality although in practice this has never been enforced. Kissing in public is illegal and can result in deportation.[29] Expats in Dubai have been deported for kissing in public.[30][31][32]

Dubai has a modest dress code. The dress code is part of Dubai's criminal law.[33] Sleeveless tops and short dresses are not allowed at Dubai's malls.[34][35] Clothes must be in appropriate lengths.[33] Expats and tourists are not allowed to consume alcohol outside of licensed venues.

Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE; in practice this has never been applied. UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia law into its Penal Code - apostasy being one of them.[36] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,[36][37] therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.

Non-Muslim expatriates can be liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[38] Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to marry and remarry.[39] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[39] In all emirates, it is illegal for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.[40] In the UAE, a marriage union between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man is punishable by law, since it is considered a form of "fornication".[40]

During the month of Ramadan, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Exceptions are made for pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and failure to comply may result in arrest.[41] In 2008 a Russian woman was put on trial for drinking juice in public during the month of Ramadan.[42]

Religious freedom

Islam is the official religion in Dubai. A policy of religious toleration allows foreigners to practice their faith in a private residence or official place of worship, or they can petition the government for a land grant and permission to build a religious institution to hold religious services, which may be a slow process.[43]

Thirteen Christian Churches exist,[44] along with facilities for Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá'ís. Non-Muslim groups are generally allowed to meet and advertise their events, but the law prohibits and punishes proselytizing.[43]

Freedom of expression

Human rights groups have expressed concerns about freedom of expression in Dubai, which is often limited by enacted laws or Ministerial edicts in the name of protecting traditional Islamic morality or the image and reputation of Dubai and its leaders.

In 2007, the Dubai government shut down two Pakistani television channels, Geo News and ARY One. Their entertainment, but not news and political programming, were eventually permitted to broadcast in Dubai.[45] The Dubai Ministry of Culture and Media banned the exhibition of a play, "Kholkhal", just hours before it was scheduled to be performed at the 8th annual Gulf Theater Festival.[45] While journalists can no longer be jailed for doing their job, other legal actions can be taken against them. Several members of the Dubai press remain on a government list as being banned from being published within the Emirate. There is also reportedly a degree of self-censorship that occurs, for fear of governmental sanctions, of certain topics that are critical of government policy, the royal family, or may offend traditional Islamic morality.[45]

In July 2013, a video was uploaded onto YouTube, which depicted a local driver hitting an expatriate worker, following a road related incident. Using part of his local head gear, the local driver whips the expatriate and also pushes him around, before other passers-by intervene. A few days later, Dubai Police announced that both the local driver and the person who filmed the video have been arrested. It was also revealed that the local driver was a senior UAE government official.[46] The video once again brings into question the way that lower classes of foreign workers are treated. Police in November 2013 also arrested a US citizen and some UAE citizens, in connection with a YouTube parody video which allegedly portrayed Dubai and its youth in a bad light.[47] The video was shot in areas of Satwa, Dubai and featured gangs learning how to fight each other using simple weapons, including shoes, the aghal, etc. Eventually, the US citizen was released; in a later interview with the BBC, the Sheikh of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad mentioned that his treatment was unfair.[48]

Forced disappearances and torture

UAE has escaped the [49][50][51] Since 2011, the UAE government has increasingly carried out forced disappearances.[5][52][53][54][55][56] Many foreign nationals and Emirati citizens have been arrested and abducted by the state, the UAE government denies these people are being held (to conceal their whereabouts), placing these people outside the protection of the law.[50][53][57] According to Human Rights Watch, the reports of forced disappearance and torture in the UAE are of grave concern.[5]

The Arab Organisation of Human Rights has obtained testimonies from many defendants, for its report on "Forced Disappearance and Torture in the UAE", who reported that they had been kidnapped, tortured and abused in detention centres.[53][57] The report included 16 different methods of torture including severe beatings, threats with electrocution and denying access to medical care.[53][57]

In 2013, 94 Emirati activists were held in secret detention centres and put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government.[58] Human rights organizations have spoken out against the secrecy of the trial. An Emirati, whose father is among the defendants, was arrested for tweeting about the trial. In April 2013, he was sentenced to 10 months in jail.[59]

Repressive measures were also used against people in order to justify the UAE government's claim that there is an "international plot" in which UAE citizens and foreigners were working together to destabilize the country.[57] Foreign nationals were also subjected to a campaign of deportations.[57] There are many documented cases of Egyptians and other foreign nationals who had spent years working in the UAE and were then given only a few days to leave the country.[57]

Foreign nationals subjected to forced disappearance include two Libyans[60] and two Qataris.[57][61] Amnesty reported that the Qatari men have been abducted by the UAE government and the UAE government has withheld information about the men's fate from their families.[57][61] Amongst the foreign nationals detained, imprisoned and expelled is Iyad El-Baghdadi, a popular blogger and Twitter personality.[57] He was arrested by UAE authorities, detained, imprisoned and then expelled from the country.[57] Despite his lifetime residence in the UAE, as a Palestinian citizen, El-Baghdadi had no recourse to contest this order.[57] He could not be deported back to the Palestinian territories, therefore he was deported to Malaysia.[57]

In 2012, Dubai police subjected three British citizens to beatings and electric shocks after arresting them on drugs charges.[62] The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed "concern" over the case and raised it with the UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during his 2013 state visit to the UK.[63] The three men were pardoned and released in July 2013.[64]

In April 2009, a video tape of torture smuggled out of the UAE showed Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods, wooden planks with protruding nails and running him over repeatedly with a car.[65] In December 2009 Issa appeared in court and proclaimed his innocence.[66] The trial ended on 10 January 2010, when Issa was cleared of the torture of Mohammed Shah Poor.[67] Human Rights Watch criticised the trial and called on the government to establish an independent body to investigate allegations of abuse by UAE security personnel and other persons of authority.[68] The US State Department has expressed concern over the verdict and said all members of Emirati society "must stand equal before the law" and called for a careful review of the decision to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case.[69]

Women's rights

In 2006, less than 20% of Emirati women were part of the national labor force.[70] UAE has the second lowest percentage of local women working in the GCC.[71] In 2008-2009, only 21% of Emirati women were part of the labor force.[71] UAE has the highest percentage of total female labor participation in the GCC (including expatriate women). However, Kuwait has the highest percentage of local female labor participation in the GCC because more than 45% of Kuwaiti women are part of the national labor force.[71] 80% of women in UAE are classified as household workers (maids).[72]

The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's civil and criminal courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[73]

Rape victims

Rape victims are not immune for punishment for other crimes they have committed in Dubai.[74][75][76] In a small number of cases, the courts of the UAE have jailed women after they reported being raped and it was proven that the accusations were false.[77][78] A British woman, after she reported being gang raped by three men, was fined AED 1000 after confessing to consuming alcohol without a license;[75][78] her attackers are currently serving ten years in prison.[79] Another British woman was charged with public intoxication and extramarital sex (with her fiancé, not the accused) after she reported being raped;[77][77][78] In one final case, an 18-year-old Emirati woman withdrew her complaint of gang rape inside a car by 6 men when faced with a long jail term when it was found there was no evidence that rape occurred.[80] The woman served one year in jail for having consensual sex outside marriage with one of the men on a separate occasion.[81]

In July 2013, a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, reported rape to the police and received a prison sentence for "illicit sex and alcohol consumption"[77] after she confessed lying about the rape. She later changed her mind and claimed she lied following advice from her manager, so her case was dismissed and she was pardoned.[82] The Emirates Center for Human Rights expressed concern over Dubai's treatment of rape victims.

LGBT rights

In keeping with traditional Islamic morality, both Federal and Emirate law prohibit homosexuality and cross-dressing with punishment ranging from long prison sentences, deportation, for foreigners, and the death penalty. No nightclub exists for LGBT explicitly, but spots exist in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with the details spreading only by word-of-mouth. No political organization is allowed to advocate for LGBT rights.


Prostitution, although illegal, exists in Dubai. Research conducted by the American Center for International Policy Studies (AMCIPS) found that Russian and Ethiopian women are the most common prostitutes, as well as women from other African countries, while Indian prostitutes are part of a well-organised trans-Oceanic prostitution network.[83] A 2007 PBS documentary entitled Dubai: Night Secrets reported that prostitution in clubs is tolerated by authorities and many foreign women work there by choice.[83][84]

Zero tolerance drug policy

Drugs found in urine or blood testing count as "possession" under UAE law. Raymond Bingham, BBC's DJ Grooverider, was sentenced to four years in prison after a pair of jeans in his luggage was found to contain just over 2 grams of marijuana.[85] The Dubai authorities have been known to stop tourists on layovers at the airport and are now using extremely sensitive electronic detection equipment, including urine and blood screening, to search for traces of illegal substances. Keith Brown, a British national, was arrested on September 17, 2007 after authorities claim to have discovered a speck of cannabis on the bottom of one of his shoes. According to an article in the Daily Mail,[86] the alleged illegal substance was smaller than a grain of sugar - weighing approximately .003 grams. He has also been sentenced to four years in prison. Other tourists and residents have been sentenced to execution for selling cannabis.[87] However, there are no reports of anyone being executed in the UAE for solely drug offences, unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia. Another UK citizen, Tracy Wilkinson, was arrested and accused of being a "drugs baroness" in 2005 after authorities found codeine in her blood.[88] Wilkinson has a bad back and received an injection of codeine at a Dubai hospital. She ended up spending two months in a cell where she contracted dysentery, head lice and an infestation of fleas before she was eventually released on bail. German television producer Cat Le-Huy was arrested in January 2008 for possessing a bottle of the over-the-counter hormone sleep aid Melatonin.[89] Authorities claimed that some dirt in Mr. Le-Huy's luggage was hashish. A Vancouver resident named Bert Tatham was arrested at Dubai International Airport returning home from Afghanistan (where he was ironically working with farmers to try to convince them not to grow poppies). The anti-narcotics officer was found to have two dead poppy bulbs and a tiny amount of hashish melted into the seams of one of his trouser pockets.[90] After spending more than 10 months in prison, he was eventually pardoned by U.A.E. President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The 2007 censorship of two Pakistani satellite channels

On 16 November 2007 [91][92][93]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates
  4. ^ Human Rights Watch - Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates - PDF
  5. ^ a b c d
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ Emiratisation won't work if people don't want to learn | The National. (2013-03-18). Retrieved on 2014-01-26.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Ministry cracks the whip Gulf News, 20 Sep 2005
  16. ^ Labour unrest hampers Burj Dubai work Khaleej Times (AP report), 22 March 2006
  17. ^ "Burj Dubai workers who protested may be sued" Khaleej Times, 24 March 2006
  18. ^ Labour in the UAE Gulf News articles on Labour Law in the UAE, protests, etc
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Indian workers strike for better deal. Times of India. Times Network. Nov. 2, 2007
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^§ion=theuae
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ a b Butti Sultan Butti Ali Al-Muhairi (1996), The Islamisation of Laws in the UAE: The Case of the Penal Code, Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1996), pp. 350-371
  37. ^ Al-Muhairi (1997), Conclusion to the Series of Articles on the UAE Penal Law. Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^ a b United Arab Emirates International Religious Freedom Report, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2009)
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b [2]
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b c [3]
  46. ^
  47. ^§ion=crime
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ a b
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^ a b c d
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^ a b
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^ The Emirati Workforce Page 30
  71. ^ a b c
  72. ^ Glass, Amy. "Working women contribute US$3.4bn to the UAE’s economy". Arabian Business (December 2007).
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^ a b
  76. ^
  77. ^ a b c d
  78. ^ a b c
  79. ^
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^ a b Mimi Chakarova. Dubai: Night Secrets, PBS Frontline, 13 September 2007
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^
  87. ^ Briton faces execution after UAE drugs bust, Yahoo News
  88. ^
  89. ^
  90. ^ AOL Canada: Canadian jailed in drug case in Dubai is pardoned by ruler of the emirate
  91. ^ Gulf News - Pakistani TV channels may move out of Dubai Media City
  92. ^ Gulf News - Geo TV also plans to move out of Dubai
  93. ^ - Geo TV hints at options outside of Dubai

External links

  • Inside Dubai's labor camps- Picture gallery from The Guardian of South Asian migrant labor in Dubai
  • Far From Home-- National Geographic Article on Human Rights and Workers in the U.A.E.
  • Slaves of Dubai-- Witness Magazine
  • The Indepdendent-- The Dark Side of Dubai
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