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Under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the UAE is hosting a global health forum on November 19, 2019 on eradicating infectious diseases. © 2019 Alexander Melnikov / Sputnik via AP
On December 11, 2019, Treatment Action Group, hepCoalition, Human Rights Watch and over 50 other human rights and public health organizations, networks, and individuals sent a third letter to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), whose mandate involves assisting countries in reforming their prison systems. The groups urged the UN agency to intervene publicly and privately to press the UAE to take appropriate action to end abusive practices against prisoners living with HIV.
(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities should ensure that all prisoners in their custody have access to appropriate HIV prevention, treatment, and care, Treatment Action Group, Action Against Aids Germany, Human Rights Watch, and 37 human rights and public health organizations and networks working on HIV and TB, said in a letter today to Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi crown prince. The groups also said that independent international monitors should be allowed regular access to prison and detention facilities.

Under Sheikh Mohammed’s patronage, the UAE is hosting a forum in Abu Dhabi on November 19, 2019, for global health leaders to share insights and best practices on eradicating infectious diseases.

“While the UAE hosts  a global forum on eradicating infectious diseases, vulnerable prisoners living with HIV in its own detention facilities are being denied critical and lifesaving treatment,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To show a genuine commitment to ending preventable diseases that affect the world’s most vulnerable communities, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan should first look to cleaning up his own backyard.”

On November 4, Human Rights Watch released research that revealed that Emirati prison authorities are denying non-national prisoners living with HIV in some UAE prisons regular and uninterrupted access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment. Human Rights Watch also found that prison authorities in al-Awir central prison in Dubai and al-Wathba central prison in Abu Dhabi have segregated detainees living with HIV from other prisoners and systematically discriminated against them.

A second letter was sent to the UNAIDS executive director, Winnie Byanyima, and the United Nations Development Program administrator, Achim Steiner. The groups urged these UN agencies to intervene publicly and privately to press the UAE to take appropriate action to end the abusive practice against non-national prisoners living with HIV, including by allowing independent monitors private visits with prisoners.

On November 5, Saeed al-Hebsi, director of human rights at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told the Guardian “The UAE rejects the allegations put forward by Human Rights Watch. Every person has a right to proper health care and we guarantee medical services to all inmates in the UAE prison system.”

However, Human Rights Watch documentation, as well as that of other international human rights groups, demonstrates that the denial of adequate medical care in UAE prisons and detention facilities extends beyond prisoners living with HIV and other communicable diseases and is most common in state security facilities, where torture is systemic.

In May, Human Rights Watch reported the death of a cancer-stricken detainee, Alia Abdel Nour, following years of mistreatment and denial of adequate medical care by security forces and prison authorities. UAE authorities ignored repeated calls by European Parliament members, UN experts, and members of her family for her release on health grounds.

Over the past year, there have also been increased concerns for the deteriorating health of two unjustly detained rights activists, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser bin Ghaith, who are reportedly being held in dismal prison conditions and denied access to health care in Al Sadr and Al Razeen prisons, respectively.

“Allowing independent and international monitors to conduct private and regular visits with prisoners in the UAE would be a step toward demonstrating that the UAE is meeting its international obligation to provide adequate medical care to all prisoners without discrimination,” Page said.

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