(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates authorities displayed a dangerous disregard for the rule of law in 2019 with arbitrary detentions, seriously flawed trials, and rampant abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. Despite declaring 2019 the “Year of Tolerance,” UAE rulers cemented their clampdown on all manners of peaceful dissent by continuing to hold activists who had completed their sentences without a clear legal basis.
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 being held in dismal prison conditions and denied access to health care. Both Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in prison solely for exercising his right to free expression, and bin Ghaith, serving 10 years on charges stemming from criticizing UAE and Egyptian authorities, carried out hunger strikes to protest their unjust convictions and deplorable treatment.
“Time and again during 2019, as it garishly sang its own praises as a tolerant and rights-respecting state, the UAE proved just how little respect it really has for universal human rights,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE’s fundamental disregard for the rule of law doesn’t just harm dissidents and critics of the regime, but anyone who may fall afoul of the authorities and the country’s flawed justice system.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.
Especially in cases related to state security, people in the UAE experienced arbitrary and incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal assistance. Forced confessions were used as evidence in trial proceedings, and prisoners complained of dismal conditions and denial of adequate medical care, including lifesaving treatment for infectious diseases.
The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers. Those who leave their employers without permission faced punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. Many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor.
UAE laws continue to discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and fail to protect them from violence. And, in June, the UAE announced the withdrawal of most of its ground troops from the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, but UAE-backed Yemeni troops continued to commit abuses there.
“The UAE’s expensive efforts to paint itself as a respectable state on the world stage will continue to ring hollow as long as it does not back up its empty words and glossy gimmicks with real and genuine reform,” Page said.