Your government’s policies toward human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates are an important measure of its commitment to respect and protect the basic rights of UAE residents. For this reason we are seriously concerned about recent steps taken by UAE authorities that seem targeted to harass and silence activists attempting to monitor human rights in the Emirates. We urge you to put an immediate stop to these policies, and to make clear that the government intends to protect the ability of human rights defenders to carry out activities without interference.
During the past six months, UAE security officials and the judiciary have launched a campaign that appears to be aimed at silencing human rights activists and lawyers. The government has also repeatedly refused to grant requested permits to give legal recognition to two local human rights organizations, and a women’s shelter despite their compliance with all aspects of the UAE association law.
Human Rights Watch is especially concerned about the following apparent violations of the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom from arbitrary arrest, and we request your urgent action to remedy these violations:
- On June 17, 2006, Muhammad Muharram Mohammad, a judge at the UAE’s Federal High Court, issued an arrest warrant and a travel ban against Muhammad al-Mansoori, president of the independent Jurists Association and a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. According to Dr. al-Mansoori, the warrant charged him with “insulting the Public Prosecutor” on the basis of his human rights advocacy. He told Human Rights Watch that on July 22, 2006, when an officer from Zayed City Police in Abu Dhabi called and asked him to present himself for questioning, he refused and requested an official summons. Three days later, federal authorities asked the Preventive Security Service of Ras al-Khaima to arrest him. Dr. al-Mansoori is currently out of the country and he fears he will be arrested if he returns.
- Security officials detained prominent lawyer and human rights defender Dr. Muhammad al-Roken on July 27 for 24 hours and interrogated him regarding his human rights activities and his public lectures. Security agents detained him again on August 23 for three days on charges of “immoral behavior” and questioned him about his human rights activities and contacts. The authorities confiscated his passport, effectively banning him from traveling abroad.
- For the past two years, the government has not responded to several applications by human rights defenders to form independent non-governmental organizations. In July 2004 Dr. al-Roken and others lawyers and activists filed an application with the Ministry of Social Welfare to form the Emirates Human Rights Society. In April 2005, another group of thirty human rights activists headed by Khalifa Bakhit al-Falasi also filed an application to set up a human rights association. According to the Associations Law, the Ministry of Social Welfare should reply to these requests within 30 days of their filing; as of this writing, despite follow up inquiries on the status of the applications, the ministry has still not responded.
- The authorities have refused to grant legal recognition to City of Hope, the UAE’s only shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence as well as domestic workers who have been abused by their employers. Sharla Musabih, the director, faces potential criminal prosecution which she alleges to be politically motivated.
Your Excellency, these cases demonstrate a distressing degree of official intolerance towards formation of independent organizations whose aim is to promote human rights. We request that you take immediate steps to ensure that the Ministry of Social Affairs responds without further delay, and in accordance with the law, to the applications of human rights organizations and to legally recognize the women’s shelter, City of Hope. We also urge you to bring an end to the harassment of Dr. Muhammad al-Mansoori, Dr. Muhammad al-Roken, and Sharla Musabih. The government of the UAE should facilitate rather than hamper the functioning of such organizations, and protect their rights under the law. Human Rights Watch calls on you to ensure that this troubling pattern of harassment and politically-motivated prosecution is immediately halted.
We would recall that in 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations, adopted the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, by consensus. That Declaration sets out clearly that individuals and associations have the right “to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” to “develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance,” and to “complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights.” The Declaration also provides that states shall have the duty to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of [human rights defenders] against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” as a consequence of their legitimate effort to promote human rights.
Today, the UAE has an excellent opportunity to live up to that Declaration and ensure that its economic success is accompanied by promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights norms. By doing so, the UAE would emerge as a role model for other countries in the region. Non-governmental organizations, independent lawyers, and advocates are integral components of a strong civil society. The government’s recent repression of civil society actors greatly impedes the development of the country’s civil society organs.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa division
H.E. Mr. Abdulaziz Nasser R. Al-Shamsi, Ambassador, The Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations
H.E. Saqr Ghobash, Ambassador, The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates