Update: Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan was acquitted on Sunday of charges related to the abuse of an Afghan merchant.
(New York) - The United Arab Emirates government needs to do more than quietly prosecute Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a royal family member videotaped apparently brutally torturing an Afghan grain dealer with the assistance of police, if it is to restore confidence in the country's justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call to the UAE government to establish an independent body with authority to inquire more broadly into the prevalence of abuse and torture by security personnel, others in positions of authority, and private citizens. Human Rights Watch also called on the UAE to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and to renounce publicly and unequivocally the use of torture. A verdict is expected today in Sheikh Issa's criminal trial.
"If the UAE government really wants to stop torture and to restore its sullied image, one trial will not be enough," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. "While Sheikh Issa's prosecution is a positive step, it is not a substitute for the institutional reforms needed to prevent torture."
Sheikh Issa, 40, has pleaded not guilty to charges of endangering a life, causing bodily harm, and rape for the 2004 incident. His trial has been under way in the Al Ain Criminal Court since late October.
The trial started six months after a videotape of the attack was broadcast on United States television apparently showing the sheikh torturing the grain dealer with whips, electric cattle prods, and a wooden plank with protruding nails. After international condemnation, including a letter from Human Rights Watch to the UAE president urging the government to take action, the UAE announced in April that it would conduct an immediate "comprehensive review" of the torture incident and "make its findings public at the earliest opportunity." Previously, the Interior Ministry had characterized the abuse as a matter that the parties subsequently settled "privately." Despite its April announcement, the government has not subsequently made any announcement about the comprehensive review nor made any results public.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department to establish an independent body to recommend disciplinary steps or criminal prosecution of all persons implicated in the abuse. Human Rights Watch has also urged the government to set up an anti-torture training program for security personnel to make clear the restrictions on the lawful use of force.
The UAE is one of only a handful of countries in the world to not have signed the Convention against Torture.