Patterns of Torture in the United Arab Emirates



A Report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

This report is dedicated to the memory of the irreplaceable and courageous human rights defenders, Alaa Al-Siddiq and Artur Ligęska, who tragically passed away in 2021. Although gone before their time, their many colleagues and friends continue their legacy defending and promoting human rights in the UAE.


2022 marks the tenth anniversary of the arrest and detention of the UAE94, a group of human rights defenders (HRDs), lawyers, judges, teachers, academics and students who peacefully advocated for political reform. Their enforced disappearance, torture and wrongful conviction for “plotting a coup against the government” in a trial marred by egregious violations of due process was a watershed moment for human rights and civic freedoms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It sent the country down an increasingly oppressive path that meant that, until his arrest in 2017, Ahmed Mansoor, was “last human rights defender openly working in the UAE.”[1] In the intervening years, the relentless use of vague legislation, targeted surveillance, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and torture has exerted a chilling effect on peaceful human rights work and the exercise of basic civic freedoms in the UAE.[2]

This report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) examines recent examples of the UAE authorities’ reliance on torture in consolidating this oppressive climate. The key patterns of torture that emerge are: the use of arbitrary arrest, detention and enforced disappearances to perpetrate torture with impunity; the punishment and further torture of those who dare to speak out about their conditions of detention and; the complicity of companies and the international community in the systematic perpetration of torture in the UAE.

However, the continuing perpetration of torture with impunity in the UAE is not just a domestic issue. It relies on and is sustained and validated by the international community’s willingness to turn a blind eye. This complicity was most recently evidenced by the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to the UAE in December 2021 when he met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and signed a multibillion-euro deal for the sale of fighter planes and combat helicopters to the UAE.[3] Furthermore, in November 2021, Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi was elected as President of the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) despite the tireless efforts of human rights organisations to alert members of the General Assembly to Al-Raisi’s key role in the torture and degrading treatment of detained human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience.[4]

Alongside calling on states and companies to cease their “business as usual” approach to the UAE whilst torture and other grave human rights violations continue unabated, the report also considers the potential of legal avenues such as universal jurisdiction in tackling the culture of impunity that sustains and supports perpetrators of torture in the UAE. It is hoped that this will send a clear signal to the authorities that they are not above the law and will face justice for their actions.

[1] “United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor remains in isolation with no bed or water, despite unconfirmed report that hunger strike has ended,” Gulf Centre for Human Rights, 4 May 2019, (accessed 01 February 2022).

[2] “Who will be left to defend human rights? Persecution of online expression in the Gulf and neighbouring countries,” Gulf Centre for Human Rights and International Human Rights Law Clinic Berkeley Law, November 2021, pp. 240-241, (accessed 21 January 2022).

[3] “UAE buys record 80 French fighter jets as Macron starts Gulf tour,” France 24, 03 December 2021, (accessed 11 January 2022).

[4] “United Arab Emirates: A united call to reject the candidacy of Maj. General Al-Raisi for INTERPOL president,” Gulf Centre for Human Rights, 16 November 2021, (accessed 11 January 2022).

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