Torture in the United Arab Emirates: The Tolerance Charade
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) rulers present the country to the world as a sponsor of the future capable of making the impossible happen. A country that is heading off to space. An ambassador of tolerance. A country with the tallest structure in the world - Burj Khalifa. A country that promotes itself as a safe haven amid popular uprisings and conflicts in the Middle East. But the truth is that underneath these glamorous slogans and cutting edge concrete structures, a stifling reality prevails, in which the UAE has progressively eliminated any voices or ideas that could possibly develop into the least form of criticism, in order to prevent them from turning into civil movements that represent the people.
This is evident through a number of features, most importantly the limited political participation of Emirati citizens, who are in fact a minority in the country. Real political participation was replaced by an advisory council, half of whose members are appointed by the authorities, and the other half is elected (since 2006) by a limited group of citizens who were carefully hand-picked by the authorities.
In addition, the UAE has tightened its control over the media, and made sure to maintain a tight grip over permits for any media platforms.The authorities also enacted penal laws to combat terrorist acts and cybercrime that include provisions condemning any criticism of the ruling families and friendly countries, and any attempt to exercise freedom of assembly in a manner that could bring to the public space actors who do not share the views of the authorities.
These laws and amendments were preceded by waves of arrests of activists, academics, dissidents and clerics that began in April 2011 with the arrest of five activists who came to be known as the UAE 5, who were accused of publicly insulting the head of state and his vice president by comments that were posted on an online platform. These measures were followed by dissolving the Association of Jurists and the Teachers' Association.
After that, seven citizens had their nationality arbitrarily withdrawn. Then, the authorities carried out a series of arbitrary arrests that began in March 2012, followed by the forced disappearance of a group of people, alleged to be members of Al-Islah, a political association, and others affiliated with it. During the first trial hearing, which was first appearance of these detainees after months in secret prisons, they announced that they were subjected to torture, and that forced confessions have been extracted from them under duress and used as evidence of guilt. These allegations have not been investigated, nor have the perpetrators been prosecuted.
While the UAE still has the top rank in the list of the world’s tallest buildings, it is ironically ranked 128th out of 162 countries in the 2019 Human Freedom Index – 24 spots down from where it stood in 2016 and 2017. This is based on information and facts that came to the attention of the European Parliament in 2018, including:
● Reports on a number of human rights violations committed in UAE prisons, and in particular Al-Razeen prison, including solitary confinement and electric shocks and other forms of torture.
● The intentional targeting of human rights defenders and political prisoners in the UAE prison system.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution in 2018 calling on the UAE authorities, inter alia:
● To prevent any further form of ill-treatment and to investigate torture allegations.
● To abide by its obligations and commitments under international human rights law, including the UN Convention against Torture; and to ratify the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
● To extend a standing invitation to visit the UAE to all Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.
In its second section, this report tackles the various aspects of torture in the UAE, including an overview of the legal framework, which encompasses the constitution, federal laws and international agreements, together with an analysis of these aspects and the manner in which the UAE authorities handled them. The third section contains a background on torture practices and cruel or inhuman treatment, followed by information on the situation in prisons, pertaining to current and former detainees and women detainees. Section four discusses the UAE's approach in addressing torture grievances, and failure to adquately investigate claims. The report concludes with a number of important recommendations.
The report captures information from original sources when possible, and conceals the names of some persons to protect their safety and that of and their relatives. The report also references reports from a number of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), as well as reliable media platforms that reported torture incidents.
This report was written and researched by Wejha Centre for Studies in cooperation with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) through a project funded by the European Union to address torture and accountability in the Gulf region.