(Dubai) - A decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court upholding a husband's right to "chastise" his wife and children with physical abuse violates the right of the country's women and children to liberty, security, and equality in the family - and potentially their right to life, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, citing the UAE penal code, sanctions beating and other forms of punishment or coercion providing the violence leaves no physical marks.
Human Rights Watch called on the government urgently to repeal all discriminatory laws, including any that sanction domestic violence.
"This ruling by the UAE's highest court is evidence that the authorities consider violence against women and children to be completely acceptable," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Domestic violence should never be tolerated under any circumstances. These provisions are blatantly demeaning to women and pose serious risks to their well-being."
The October 5, 2010 court ruling, a copy of which Human Rights Watch obtained, states that, "Although the husband has the right to discipline his wife in accordance with article 53 of the penal code, he must abide by conditions setting limits to this right, and if the husband abuses this right to discipline, he shall not be exempt from punishment."
Article 53 of the UAE's penal code acknowledges the right of a "chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children" so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Shari'a. Similarly, article 56 of the UAE's personal status code obligates women to "obey" their husbands.
The case was initiated with a trial of a man for kicking and slapping his 23-year-old daughter and slapping his wife at the Sharjah Court of First Instance in December 2009. According to the judgment, "medical reports confirmed the evidence of wounds to the daughter's right hand and right knee, and evidence of wounds to the wife's lower lip and injuries to her teeth."
This court found the man guilty of violating article 2/339 of the penal code and fined him 500 dirhams (US $136). This penal provision on crimes against persons states that whoever assaults another person, if the assault did not reach the degree of seriousness to cause illness or disability, shall be sentenced to prison for a term not exceeding one year and a fine not to exceed 10,000 dirhams (US$2,722)
The Sharjah Court of Appeals upheld the decision on February 14, but the man appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the man guilty of abusing his daughter because she is no longer a minor and too old to be disciplined by her father. The court also found the man guilty of "abusing his Shari'a rights" when disciplining his wife because of the severity of that attack. The judgment states that, "The court, convinced of the appearance of injuries on the bodies of the plaintiffs, has overridden the defendant's right to discipline due to his use of severe beatings." In effect, the Supreme Court validated the penal code's legalization of domestic violence, but found that in this case the abuse went too far.
In 2004, the UAE signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The convention's General Recommendation on Violence against Women regards gender-based violence as a form of discrimination between men and women and calls on governments to take effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women, regardless of whether the act is private or public. The UAE also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1997. Article 19 of the CRC states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of violence, whether physical or mental.
"The UAE Supreme Court's ruling lets stand a law that is degrading, discriminatory, and outright dangerous for women and children," Khalife said. "The UAE needs to come to grips with reality of domestic violence, repeal all discriminatory provisions sanctioning violence against women and children, enact laws that criminalize such behavior, and provide appropriate services to victims."