Skip to main content

UAE: End Harassment of Rights Defenders

The authorities in the United Arab Emirates should end their harassment of some of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders and give their organizations the legal recognition they have sought, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter to UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Human Rights Watch called on him to halt what appeared to be politically motivated investigations of independent lawyers and other human rights defenders. It also called on him to allow independent human rights groups to operate legally.

“The UAE’s policies toward human rights defenders are completely inconsistent with the government’s message that this is a tolerant and forward-looking country,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should be encouraging these advocates, not harassing them and trying to silence them.”

During the past few months, security officials and the judiciary have targeted several of the country’s prominent human rights defenders. In June 2006, the Federal High Court issued an arrest warrant for Muhammad al-Mansoori, president of the independent Jurists Association for allegedly “insulting the public prosecutor.” Al-Mansoori told Human Rights Watch that government officials told him these charges stemmed from his public interviews and advocacy promoting human rights.

Security agents detained another prominent lawyer and a former president of the Jurists Association, Muhammad al-Roken, in July for 24 hours, and again in August for three days. On both occasions officials questioned him about his human rights activities and his public lectures. Security officials confiscated his passport and banned him from leaving the country.

Since 2004, the Ministry of Social Welfare has not replied to applications by two human rights groups attempting to have their organizations legally recognized. Under the UAE Association Law, the ministry should have replied to these applications within 30 days.

The government has also not recognized City of Hope, the country’s only shelter for women, children and domestic workers who have been abused. The organization’s director, Sharla Musabih, currently faces potential criminal prosecution in what she alleges to be a politically motivated case. Musabih told Human Rights Watch that lack of official recognition emboldens her critics to constantly harass her.

The government of UAE has affirmative duties to protect human rights advocates. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which the General Assembly adopted by consensus in 1998, declares that individuals and associations have the right to:

  • “promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;
  • “develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance”; and
  • “complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights.”

The declaration also calls on states 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.

To read the letter to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, please visit:

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.