Joint Submission on the United Arab Emirates to the 71st Session of the UN Committee Against Torture

26.06.20

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This submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is made in advance of the review in April 2021 at the CAT’s 71st session. The UAE was due to be reviewed during the CAT’s 69thsession from 20 April to 15 May 2020, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The submission is being published to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June 2020, and is updated to that date. It is made jointly by 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).

     I.         About the authors

This report has been jointly authored by the following organisations:

●      The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent NGO that works to provide support and protection to human rights defenders (including independent journalists, bloggers and lawyers) in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries by promoting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.    

●      The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation campaigning for respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners, an end to torture of those detainees, support for an independent judiciary and support for progress towards a representative elected parliament and overall democratic reform.

●      The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is an international NGO based in Geneva with offices in New York and Abidjan, which works for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders, through capacity building, advocacy and litigation with international human rights organisations.

●      The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), created in 1985, is today the main coalition of international NGOs fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. OMCT has over 200 affiliated organisations in its SOS-Torture Network and many tens of thousands of correspondents in every country.

   II.         Intro and background about UAE

Since the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has increased its brutal clampdown on fundamental human rights and freedoms. The 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. 

Under the pretext of national security, the UAE authorities have subjected human 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 United Nations mechanisms. 

In October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, calling on the UAE to, among other things, stop all forms of harassment and immediately lift the travel ban against human rights defenders, and urging the authorities to “guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, both inside and outside the country, without fear of reprisals.”

In this report, GCHR, ICFUAE, ISHR and OMCT summarise the situation concerning torture in the UAE, including its laws and international obligations; the practice of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in prisons in the UAE, with specific cases of human rights defenders and other prisoners including women; the use of forced confession; the lack of redress for victims of torture; and the reaction of the state to reports of torture; in addition to providing recommendations to the UAE.

We are publishing this report well in advance of the review of the UAE by the Committee Against Torture (CAT) during its 71st session in April 2021, following the cancellation of the 69th session due to the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We regret that the review of the UAE was postponed to the 71st session next year for the following reasons. Unlike the other five countries that were to be examined during the 69th session, which had already undergone two to three periodic reviews, for the UAE the upcoming review marked their first, long-awaited, review by the Committee. This initial review comes almost eight years after the ratification of the Convention by the State party and should therefore be considered a priority. 

The review of the UAE is all the more urgent in light of the country’s persistent non-compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment. Despite the ratification of the Convention in 2012, torture continues to be widespread in the UAE criminal justice system, from arrest and interrogation to detention. In particular, the authorities continued to subject all peaceful dissenting voices, including human rights defenders, critics, writers and political activists to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, prolonged isolation, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and harsh prison sentences, solely for their peaceful activities, including engaging with United Nations mechanisms. 

We are particularly concerned that human rights defenders are being kept in permanent solitary confinement in unhygienic conditions, which puts their mental and physical health in jeopardy. In addition, with the spread of COVID-19 in UAE prisons, the lives of all prisoners are currently at risk, as of June 2020.

By holding prisoners in unsanitary conditions and in prolonged isolation, the UAE authorities are in violation of their obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Principle 6 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, as well as Article 2, paragraph 3 of the UAE’s Code of Criminal Procedure.

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