United Arab Emirates: UAE must be held accountable at the Committee Against Torture

26.06.22

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) must be held accountable at the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) in July 2022 for the torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders and activists in prisons and secret detention centres, say four human rights groups on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, marked each year on 26 June 2022.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) have released their updated submission to the CAT, which was postponed due to Covid-19 until the CAT’s 74th session, being held on 13-14 July 2022. The four groups have updated the 2020 submission with extensive documentation of ongoing torture and abuse in prison, including the use of prolonged solitary confinement.

According to the submission, “The UAE authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned scores of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and critics, and systematically silenced peaceful dissenting voices. The crackdown on the right to freedom of expression has been so severe that, today, freedom of speech and civic space are virtually non-existent in the country.” 

Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR, stated, “We are particularly concerned that our colleague, GCHR advisory board member Ahmed Mansoor, is being held in permanent solitary confinement in unsanitary conditions, without a bed, mattress or pillow, which has caused the deterioration of his mental and physical health.” He added, “The UAE authorities should release him immediately and without any conditions.”

“The upcoming long-delayed review of the UAE is all the more urgent in light of the country's persistent non-compliance with the Convention against Torture,” says Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “Despite the State ratifying the Convention in 2012, torture continues to be widespread in the UAE criminal justice system, from arrest and interrogation to detention.” This initial review comes almost ten years after the UAE’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment. 

“Under the pretext of national security, the UAE authorities have subjected hman rights defenders and activists to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, prolonged isolation, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and harsh prison sentences, solely for their peaceful human rights activities, including engaging with UN mechanisms,” says Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR Human Rights Council Programme Manager.

In their submission, the four groups call on the UAE to remove reservations to the UNCAT and ratify its Optional Protocol, and to ensure effective legal redress by investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of torture. The UN should press the UAE authorities to allow UN Special Rapporteurs to visit prisoners of conscience. We further recommend that the authorities allow an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of woman prisoner Alia Abdel Nour in 2019, and hold accountable the parties responsible for her alleged torture, abuse and neglect.

Tragically, the CAT review comes too late to seek justice for Polish fitness expert Artur Ligęska who wanted to launch a legal complaint for his torture and mistreatment in Al-Sadr prison in 2018-2019, and seek compensation for his torture and wrongful imprisonment. Ligęska died in May 2021 after suffering great physical and psychological distress. 

In this CAT submission, GCHR, ICFUAE, ISHR and OMCT present an overview of the torture phenomenon in the UAE, including its laws and international obligations; the practice of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in prisons, with specific cases of human rights defenders and other prisoners including women; the use of forced confession; the lack of redress for victims; and the reaction of the state to reports of torture. The report concludes with recommendations addressed to the UAE. 

Click here to read the full joint CAT submission, available in English and Arabic.