September 10, 2012
We would like to commend Your Majesty’s government for its accession to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on July 19, 2012. The assumption of treaty obligations to prohibit, prevent and criminalize torture is an important step, and provides welcome substance to the general prohibition of torture in Article 26 of the UAE’s Constitution. In an August 26 opinion piece in The National, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Anwar Gargash, drew attention to what he regards as the failure of international human rights groups to acknowledge the achievements of the UAE. We hope that this letter will go some way to assuaging any concerns you might have in that regard.
The primary role of Human Rights Watch is to monitor states’ adherence to their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law and we would also like take this opportunity to register our serious concern regarding credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the State Security prison in Abu Dhabi, allegations which if true are inconsistent with the UAE’s recently assumed treaty obligations and in violation of the customary international law prohibiting torture. We urge you to ensure that credible criminal investigations into these allegations take place leading to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment.
According to an account which Human Rights Watch collected from Abdulelah al-Jadani, on the morning of May 8, 2011 four SUVs stopped his truck on the E311 Emirates Road as he was transporting construction materials from Ras Al Khaimah to Jebel Ali. Al-Jadani had arrived in the UAE in Februrary 2008, and had been working with family members, in a small road haulage business. Fifteen men in plainclothes exited the vehicles, removed al-Jadani from his truck and placed him in one of their vehicles. They confiscated his wallet and passport, and handcuffed and blindfolded him. He said that the men, who did not reveal their identity, then drove al-Jadani to his lodgings in Sharjah, where they searched his personal belongings and confiscated his laptop. They then drove him to a gated detention center where security guards placed al-Jadani in a windowless 3 x 2 metre cell equipped with a surveillance camera. For the next 18 days, al-Jadani claims, officials subjected him to interrogation employing systematic physical and psychological abuse. Under international law torture is the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.
Al-Jadani claims that the officers identified the installation as a State Security facility and that they spoke with Gulf accents. Every afternoon, in the same room, al-Jadani alleges, they beat and whipped him, held him in painful stress positions, and hung him from the wall by his arms and legs. He was also subjected to severe sleep deprivation and extreme cold in his cell. The interrogation of al-Jadani for the most part focused on his alleged connections with individuals involved in the Syrian uprising, in particular Syrian national and fellow detainee Musab Khalil Abood, a close acquaintance whom Emirati officials arrested on May 6, 2011 as he attempted to return to Syria for his father’s funeral. Al-Jadani’s interrogators demanded that he reveal information about what they claimed was Abood’s participation in political violence in Syria. Later interrogation sessions focused on what interrogators alleged were al-Jadani and Abood’s links with violent Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda.
Al-Jadani’s interrogations ended after 18 days, but he was kept in solitary confinement for three months, during which time he could hear what he said were cries of pain coming from the same room in which he had been interrogated. After his transfer to Al Wathba jail in Abu Dhabi in August 2011, al-Jadani met up with Musab Khalil Abood, who claimed to have been subjected to the same torture and ill-treatment in the course of interrogation.
An Emirati court freed al-Jadani in January 2012, but convicted Abood on terrorism charges and sentenced him to three years in jail. Neither Abdulelah al-Jadani nor Musab Khalil Abood were able to access legal assistance during their detention, and in Abood’s case, there are reasonable grounds to believe that his conviction was based on confessions extracted under torture. Both men maintain their innocence of any involvement in terrorist activities.
The treatment that al-Jadani has alleged that UAE interrogators subjected him and Abood to constitutes torture as it is defined in international law: officers acting in an official capacity subjected them to severe pain and suffering for the purpose of obtaining information or confessions. The prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law, and was therefore binding on the UAE prior to its accession to the Convention against Torture. The non-derogable character of torture’s prohibition means that there are no circumstances in which it is permissible. Torture is deemed so serious a crime that the commission of acts of torture invokes the obligation of all states to take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.
The UAE’s accession to the Torture Convention implies your government’s recognition of the criminal nature of torture, but this pledge will be rendered meaningless if it is not backed up by a commitment to abide by its provisions. Although these provisions are non-retroactive, we would urge Your Excellency’s government to demonstrate its bona fide intention to adhere the Torture Convention by ensuring a thorough and impartial investigation into these allegations of torture takes place. Any officials found to be responsible for ordering, carrying out, or condoning torture should face criminal prosecution.
We also urge your humanitarian intervention in the case of Musab Khalil Abood, who is on the 60th day of a hunger strike in protest at his conviction, and whose health is a matter of grave concern. An investigation into the circumstances behind Abood’s conviction is essential to ensure that his conviction was not based on a confession secured by torture. In that case your government is obliged to free him or, if authorities have reasonable grounds to believe that he committed a crime, to initiate a new trial that meets international fair trial standards.
We would also like to draw Your Majesty’s attention to the problematic declaration entered by the United Arab Emirates upon its accession to the Torture Convention.
The United Arab Emirates also confirms that the lawful sanctions applicable under national law, or pain or suffering arising from or associated with or incidental to these lawful sanctions, do not fall under the concept of “torture” defined in article 1 of this Convention or under the concept of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment mentioned in this Convention.
Severe pain or suffering arising from or associated with sanctions and deliberately inflicted, even when provided for by national law would fall under the concept of torture as defined in Article 1. International treaty law does not permit the invocation of national law as a justification for failure to observe treaty obligations, a point the Committee against Torture is likely to raise at the UAE’s first review. We urge you to withdraw this declaration without delay.
Instead we urge you to ensure a full review of UAE’s laws is conducted to ensure they are compatible with the Convention, including the definition of torture in the criminal law, ensuring there are no justifications or immunities in law for torture, that evidence obtained by torture is always excluded, and the duty to investigate and prosecute or extradite any person in UAE territory suspected of committing torture offenses anywhere in the world.
We also urge you to withdraw your reservation under the terms of Article 28, and thereby recognize the competence of the Committee against Torture to investigate reliable reports of torture and carry out state visits where necessary.