(New York) – The United Arab Emirates should swiftly end the arbitrary detention and harassment of its critics in line with its obligations as a recently elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The UAE secured its position on the Human Rights Council on November 12, 2012, after standing unopposed for one of the five vacant seats reserved for Asian states [or Asia group seats]. A coalition of nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, wrote to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan in advance of the country’s election to the Human Rights Council to urge specific reforms, including an immediate end to arbitrary detentions, the repeal of provisions of the criminal code and media law that restrict free speech, and reform of the system that regulates the recruitment and employment of migrant workers. The UAE’s election to the council coincides with a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation domestically, which led to the European Parliament expressing “great concern” in a resolution adopted on October 26.

“Now that the UAE has been elected to the Human Rights Council, it’s high time for real improvements in the human rights situation in the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE should mark its election by ending arbitrary detention of 63 political detainees and taking steps to protect the rights of migrant workers.”

In accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, members of the Human Rights Council should uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. In their letter to Al Nahyan, Human Rights Watch, the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network urged the UAE to make reforms in the following key areas.

  • Cease arbitrary detentions and respect the right to fair trial
  • Respect the right to freedom of expression and opinion
  • End the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in detention
  • Implement key recommendations of treaty bodies
  • Respect the fundamental rights of migrant workers and stateless bidun.

The letter concludes by reminding the UAE’s rulers that a commitment to human rights entails a commitment to take concrete steps, legislative and otherwise, to uphold the principles and standards of human rights law.