The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 8.5 million of whom an estimated 11.5 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. In 2009 the council selected Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi Emirate, to a second five-year term as president. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, to leaders of the individual emirates, and to leaders of the federation. There are limited democratically elected institutions and no political parties. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the Federal National Council (FNC). Citizens can express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional, consultative mechanisms such as the open “majlis” (forum). The FNC, a nonlegislative, consultative body, consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population. The appointed electorate elected 20 on September 24, 2011 and the rulers of the individual emirates appointed another 20 in mid-November. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
Three core human rights issues continue to be of concern: citizens’ inability to change their government; limitations on citizens’ civil liberties (including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association); and lack of judicial independence. Although the government took steps to expand political participation, political parties are not permitted. The government continued to interfere with privacy and to restrict civil liberties, including usage of the Internet. Capacity and structural issues leave the judiciary susceptible to political influence.
In contrast with 2010, there were no reports of torture during the year, and there were no reports that flogging was employed as judicially sanctioned punishment. There were, however, reports of police and prison guard brutality during the year. Arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained a problem. Although there were limited reports of corruption, the government lacked transparency. Domestic abuse of women remained a problem; however, police and social workers addressed the issue in close coordination, with the presence of social workers at police stations to communicate in private with victims of violence. Women and noncitizens faced legal and societal discrimination. Trafficking in persons continued, the government restricted the rights of foreign workers, and abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers remained a problem.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. Police who committed wrongdoing were held accountable.
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no known reports that government officials employed torture; however, there were reports of police and prison guard brutality during the year.
In March Ajman police arrested a 14-year-old Arab girl on charges of adultery, subjected her to a virginity test, held her in solitary confinement, and later jailed her with adult women after receiving reports that she had met a 25-year-old man on her building’s rooftop. No further information was available at year’s end.
In May domestic media reported that 13 police officers allegedly beat and tortured three Pakistani prisoners, killing one and severely injuring the others.
Sharia (Islamic law) courts had the option of imposing flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol abuse. Caning in past years resulted in substantial bruising, welts, and open wounds on those flogged. There were no reports that punishments of this type were administered during the year.
On September 12, upon payment of 3.4 million dirhams (approximately $925,000) in diya (blood money), the Sharjah Court of Appeal revoked the death sentences of 17 Indian nationals convicted of murder in March 2010. In September 2010 local media reported the convicts claimed their confessions were obtained after a severe beating by police in Dubai. The government deported four of the former prisoners in November, but 13 others remain in the Sharjah Central Jail due to a travel ban imposed because of other pending litigation against them.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions varied widely among the emirates. There were reports of police and prison guards mistreating individuals, particularly at the Bur Dubai police precinct. On April 14, British and international media reported that a British tourist died in police custody after Dubai police severely beat him. A government investigation determined that he died of natural causes. There were reports that prisoners with HIV did not receive appropriate health care.
The government has not released statistics on prison demographics and capacity since 2006. There was at least one report of a girl held with female adults during the year. Some prisons were overcrowded, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Prisoners had access to visitors, but it was unclear if they were permitted religious observance. Prisoners had access to potable water. Prisoners have a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities; however, details about investigations into complaints were not publicly available. Ombudsmen cannot serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The government stated that it inspected and monitored prison and detention center conditions.
Police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stated that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to observe prison conditions if requested. Charitable NGOs visited prisons during the year and were permitted to provide material support but were unable to determine the welfare of the prisoners. Members of the Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) met with federal Ministry of Interior officials and prisoners during visits to several detention facilities during the year.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were reports that the government held persons in official custody without charge or a preliminary judicial hearing. The Ministry of Interior detained foreign residents arbitrarily at times. The law permits indefinite, routine, and incommunicado detention without appeal. Under this procedure, the detainee may contact an attorney but is not permitted to see friends and family.
In June local authorities refused for more than a month to confirm the detention of an American citizen being held by the State Security Department. From June 1, until his deportation on September 14, he was detained without charge and held incommunicado except for one consular visit.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Ministry of Interior oversees police general directorates in all of the seven emirates; each emirate, under its corresponding police general directorate, maintains its own police force and supervises police stations. All emirate police forces are officially branches of the ministry; in practice they operated with considerable autonomy. The police forces are responsible for internal security and the federal armed forces are responsible for external security. Local police are semiautonomous.
The Ministry of Interior has broad authority to investigate abuses. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the local police forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.
On October 17, local press reported the prosecution of a 26-year-old Dubai police officer charged with kidnapping and raping a Moroccan woman in the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance. The trial continued at year’s end.
No information was available on the outcome of a August 2010 Dubai court case involving a British woman allegedly raped and beaten by an Emirati soldier.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
Police stations received complaints from the public, made arrests, and forwarded cases to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor then transferred cases to the courts. The law prohibits arrest or search of citizens without probable cause; however, incidents occurred in practice. There were reports that security forces failed to obtain warrants in some cases. Police must report an arrest within 48 hours to the public prosecutor, who then must determine within 24 hours whether to charge, release, or further detain the suspect. In practice, the public prosecutor did not always meet the 24-hour time limit, although police usually adhered to their 48-hour deadline. Prosecutors are required to submit charges to a court within 14 days of the police report, at which point the detainee should be informed of the charges against him; it was unknown whether this was true in practice. Public prosecutors may order detainees held as long as 21 days without charge, or longer in some cases with a court order. Courts may not grant an extension of more than 30 days of detention without charge; however, judges may renew 30-day extensions indefinitely. Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once a suspect is charged with terrorism, the Supreme Court may extend the detention indefinitely.
There is no formal system of bail; however, authorities can temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal guarantee statement signed by a third party. Defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter, may be denied release in accordance with the law. Some prisoners, detained on charges related to a person’s death, were released after making a monetary payment (diya).
A defendant is entitled to an attorney after police have completed their investigation. Police sometimes questioned the accused for weeks without access to an attorney. The government may provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies that are punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law requires the government to provide counsel in cases in which indigent defendants face punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty. Generally authorities granted family members prompt access to those arrested on charges unrelated to state security; however, some persons were held incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government committed arbitrary arrests, notably in cases that allegedly violated state security regulations. On February 4, the State Security Department arrested Hasan Muhammed Al Hammadi, an active board member of the Teachers’ Association, after he expressed support for demonstrators in Egypt during a mosque sermon in Sharjah. The government held him in incommunicado detention in Khorfakkan and later transferred him to Abu Dhabi. The government released him on February 17 after he turned over his passport to authorities. Arabic press reported that he may be charged under Article 182 of Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 for using religion to incite sedition or acts threatening internal security, but no further information was available about his case at year’s end. The government later dissolved the elected board of the Teachers’ Association (see section 5, Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights). Arbitrary arrest also occurred during the detention of Ahmed Mansoor, (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Pretrial Detention: According to reports, pretrial detention was in some cases arbitrarily lengthy (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial).
Amnesty: While there were no known amnesties during the year, on religious and national holidays and after returning from long periods of convalescence overseas, rulers of each emirate regularly pardon and pay the debts of many prisoners. According to press reports, rulers pardoned at least 4,192 prisoners and paid their debts during the year.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership and suffered from nepotism. There were reports that the State Security Department intervened in judicial affairs. The judiciary was composed largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government. There was no functional separation between the executive and judicial branches.
By tradition the local rulers’ offices, or “diwans,” maintained the practice of reviewing some criminal and civil offenses before they referred cases to prosecutors. They also reviewed sentences judges passed, returned cases to the court on appeal if they did not approve of the verdict, and approved the release of every prisoner who had completed a sentence. The diwans’ involvement--usually in cases between two citizens or between a citizen and noncitizen--led to lengthy delays prior to and following the judicial process and lengthened the time defendants served in prison. The diwan’s decision in any court case is considered final and, when a judge and diwan disagree, the diwan’s decision prevails.
According to the law, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The constitution provides the right to a public trial, except in national security cases or cases the judge deems harmful to public morality. As in countries with civil law systems, there are no jury trials. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and a limited right to legal counsel in court. While awaiting a decision on official charges at the police station or the prosecutor’s office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In all cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys can present witnesses and question witnesses against them, but this did not always happen in practice. Defense counsel has access to relevant government-held evidence. By law all court proceedings are conducted in Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to a translator, in some cases involving deportation of illegal residents, the court provided translation only at sentencing. The defense counsel often used a translator to communicate with the defendant. In cases involving foreign defendants, especially for crimes of moral turpitude, authorities sometimes deported the defendants immediately based solely on allegations.
Each court system has an appeals process. Death sentences may be appealed to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense is committed or to the president of the federation. In murder cases, consent of the victim’s family is required to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. In cases that end in acquittals, the prosecutor may appeal and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.
The case of an American citizen charged with financial crimes valued in millions of dirhams continued at year’s end, marking the fourth year of incarceration without a conviction for the accused. The courts and prosecutor’s office continued to raise additional claims against the defendant that required new rulings from the judge. The courts granted bail to the Emirati codefendant but continued to deny bail for the American citizen despite two earlier rulings that approved the bail requests. These practices have kept the accused incarcerated since 2008 without conviction while Emirati defendants in similar cases were allowed to defend their cases outside incarceration in bail status. The case remains ongoing. Foreigners charged with financial crimes are, in some cases, permitted to defend their cases under bail status at the judge’s discretion.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
During the year there were persons reportedly held incommunicado and without charge for unknown reasons (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention).
In April security forces arrested Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser Bin Ghaith, Fahad Dalk Al-Shihhi, Hassan Ali Al Khamis, and Ahmed Abdulhaleq Ahmed for publicly insulting the country’s rulers through postings on an online discussion forum. Several of the men had earlier signed a public petition to President Sheikh Khalifa calling for universal suffrage in the FNC elections and requesting full legislative authority for the FNC. The government also charged Mansoor with perpetrating acts that endanger state security and undermine the public order. In the group trial, the three-judge panel of the Federal Supreme Court consisted of noncitizen judges from Egypt and Syria who, according to defense attorneys, did not appear at times to understand the Emirati Arabic dialect. There were reports that the prosecution did not specify the explicit acts of defamation that were used against the defendants, and that the government did not provide an opportunity to the defense to cross-examine some prosecution witnesses. Government officials reportedly reviewed all written communication between the defendants and their attorneys and monitored all conversations during jail visits. On November 27, the court sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison and his co-defendants to two years. The government pardoned all five on November 28.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked independence. Administrative remedies were available for labor complaints and were particularly common in cases regarding physical abuse of domestic workers.
The constitution prohibits entry into a home without the owner’s permission, except when police present a warrant in accordance with the law, but there were credible reports that security forces occasionally failed to obtain warrants. Officers’ actions in searching premises were subject to review by the Ministry of Interior, and officers were liable to disciplinary action if their actions were judged irresponsible.
The constitution provides for freedom and confidentiality of correspondence by mail, telegram, and all other means of communication. However, there were reports that the government censored some incoming international mail, tapped telephones, and monitored outgoing mail and electronic forms of communication without legal process.
Local interpretation of Sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women not “of the book,” meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.