UAE Travel Guide
Human Rights in the UAE
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Migrants, mostly of south Asian origin, constitute 95% of the UAE’s workforce and are subject to a range of human rights abuses. Workers typically arrive in debt to recruitment agents from home countries and upon arrival are often made to sign a new contract in English or Arabic which pays them less than had originally been agreed. Visa and travel costs are typically added on to the original debt, and thus within hours of their arrival, workers often find that their debt-repayment time has increased significantly, possibly by years.
Confiscation of passports is officially illegal, but in reality employers have been known to retain the passports of their semi or unskilled employees. All of the workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in a 2006 report had had their passports confiscated. The kafala system of employment, which ties an employee to one employer and prevents him or her from seeking alternative employment without the expressed approval of the original employer operates in the UAE. Workers are therefore dependent on their employer for housing, wages and healthcare. The lack of proper enforcement mechanisms of the country’s labour laws means that in practice employers may break laws with little fear of prosecution. Accordingly, non-payment of wages, cramped and unsanitary living conditions, poor safety practices, physical and mental abuse are widespread. Local government representatives of South-Asian governments, such as Indian, Pakistani, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi consulates have also been of little help in providing representation for their nationals in such cases.
The issue of sexual abuse among female domestic servants is an area of concern, particularly given that domestic servants are not covered by the UAE Labour Law of 1980 or the Draft Labour Law of 2007, which was heavily criticised by Human Rights Watch. In 2007 the falling dollar meant workers were unable to service debts and the incidence of suicides among Indian workers had reportedly been on the increase. Worker protests have been heavily cracked down on with reports of collective expulsion and imprisonment. The government has ignored international pressure to introduce trade unions despite repeated promises to do so going back to 2004.
From the perspective of international human rights law, the UAE is in violation of its obligations under the terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in particular where its treatment of non-citizens is concerned. It is in violation of its obligations under the terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, particularly where its treatment of domestic workers is concerned. Recent initiatives to stamp out the practice of child labor have headed off criticism that it violates its obligations under the terms of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is also an argument that the UAE is in violation of its obligation to stamp out the debt bondage and furthermore that the state is itself involved in it and profits from that debt bondage.
Even though the UAE government has made some advances in the protection of human rights, the U.S. Department of State notes in its annual report on human rights practices that numerous fundamentalist practices and policies exist to the contrary.
As Sharia prohibits 'sodomy', homosexual relationships are not commonly disclosed. Homosexual behavior in public may result in imprisonment and/or deportation.
The UAE also does not allow individuals past retirement age to stay within the country without a job. Upon retirement, residents must return to their country of origin. People with TB, Hepatitis C and AIDS are also at a disadvantage as any non-citizen found with these illnesses may be deported.
Discrimination in the workplace has also been reported; prospective employers will specify religion, nationality and also specify the sex of required candidates within job advertisements. However, this is often a necessity due to modesty considerations in traditional societies as well as language requirements in a country where much of the population does not speak the national language. Different pay scales may also occur depending on nationality and sex in order to reduce an overwhelming reliance on foreign labour. Policies are in place in certain instances where state employers are required to fill in vacancies with UAE nationals, a process called Emiratisation.
In April 2009 a video emerged of a United Arab emirates Royal Sheikh, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan directing the torture of an Afghan grain dealer Mohammed Shah Poor. The video shows Sheikh Issa torturing the man by using a cattle prod against his genitals and anus, setting his testicles aflame with lighter fluid, cutting him, pouring salt on his wounds, and finally running him over multiple times with a Mercedes SUV. The Sheikh was assisted by a uniformed policeman as well as others. The official response of The UAE government concedes that Sheik Issa is the man shown in the video but says he did nothing wrong. The incidents depicted in the videotapes were not part of a pattern of behaviour the Ministry of the Interior said in a statement, according to ABC. ABC revealed torture movie
The Guardian reported on Sunday that the lawyer for Nabulsi, Sheik Issa's former partner, claims to have "more than two hours of video footage showing Sheikh Issa's involvement in the torture of more than 25 people". According to the newspaper, police are believed to be seen participating in the attacks and some of the victims are thought to be Sudanese immigrants. Video of what appears to be al-Nahayan engaging in torture can be seen in the ABC News report , from which the photos in this post are taken. The site's author says the site was banned in the UAE and writes that that "the Royal Family attempted to sweep the torture under the rug and ignore it."
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