Joint Submission on the United Arab Emirates to the 74th Session of the UN Committee Against Torture
This submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was originally made in advance of the UAE’s expected review in April 2021 at the CAT’s 71st session. The UAE was due to be reviewed during the CAT’s 69th session from 20 April to 15 May 2020, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of the UAE’s review at the CAT’s 74th session on 13 and 14 July 2022, this submission has been updated. The original submission was published to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June 2020, and is now updated to 10 June 2022. 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 based in Lebanon that works to provide support and protection to human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries by promoting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. GCHR is based in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and covers other countries in the region on occasion.
● 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.
I. 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 September 2021, the European Parliament adopted a wide-ranging resolution on "The case of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in UAE," which calls for "the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor, Dr Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr Nasser bin Ghaith as well as all other human rights defenders, political activists and peaceful dissidents." Furthermore, the Resolution "deeply deplores the gap between the UAE’s claims to be a tolerant and rights-respecting country and the fact its own human rights defenders are detained in harsh conditions." It notes that “human rights defenders and members of their families are subjected to forced disappearances, prolonged arbitrary detention, torture, judicial harassment and unfair trials, travel bans, physical and digital surveillance, and arbitrary dismissal from work.” The European Parliament “reminds the UAE authorities that prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement amounts to torture; calls on the UAE authorities to guarantee all detainees, including prisoners of conscience, due process and fair trial; urges the authorities to amend the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Cybercrime Law and Federal Law No 2 of 2008, which are repeatedly used to prosecute human rights defenders, in order to comply with international human rights standards.”
In July 2022, the EU-UAE Dialogue will take place, giving the EU an opportunity to raise some of these issues with the Emirati authorities.
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 first published this report well in advance of the planned 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. It was then postponed again to the 74th session in July 2022. We regret that the review of the UAE was postponed repeatedly 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 this review marked their first, long-awaited, review by the Committee. This initial review now comes ten years after the ratification of the Convention by the State party and should therefore have been 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. No UN Special Rapporteurs have been allowed to visit the UAE since 2015.
The use of torture and ill-treatment is facilitated by a legislative framework that provides little protection for individual freedoms. A report by GCHR and the International Human Rights Law Clinic of Berkeley Law from November 2021 entitled, “Who will be left to defend human rights? Persecution of online expression in the Gulf and neighbouring countries,” concludes that the proliferation of vague and arbitrary laws that stifle freedom of expression impinge on other associated rights, including freedom from arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture.
The UAE state news agency WAM reported in November 2021 that it was amending over 40 laws “to strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities, in addition to maximizing social stability, security and ensuring the rights of both individuals and institutions.” Human Rights Watch says, “While the changes allow for a moderate broadening of personal freedoms, the new legal framework retains severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association, and assembly.” On 24 January 2022, 15 NGOs led by MENA Rights Group protested the UAE’s new Law on Combatting Rumours and Cybercrime, in a joint NGO appeal which states, “the new text does not address the problematic provisions of its predecessor and, on the contrary, further restricts civic space and free speech within the UAE and maintains the criminalisation of acts that are protected under international law.”
In its report on torture in the UAE, “Patterns of Torture in the United Arab Emirates”, published in February 2022, GCHR notes “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.”GCHR examined 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 disappearance 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.
GCHR’s report maintains that “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 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 [then] Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and signed a multibillion-Euro deal for the sale of fighter planes and combat helicopters to the UAE.
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.”
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 were put at risk.
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.