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Fifty Years Since Establishment, UAE State Security Apparatus Should End Widespread Abuses of Emiratis’ Fundamental Rights

UAE Minister of State and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber talks during the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week's opening ceremony, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 16, 2023.    © 2023 AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

On the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s State Security Apparatus (SSA)’s establishment, MENA Rights Group, the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, and Human Rights Watch call on Emirati authorities to immediately halt the SSA’s gross human rights violations.

Created on June 10, 1974, the SSA is the highest authority on UAE state security matters and has played a leading role in the crackdown on peaceful dissent in the country, starting with the mass arrests campaign launched in 2013 against Emirati civil society. That year, SSA agents arrested, secretly detained, and tortured over a hundred lawyers, judges, students, and other intellectual figures who signed a petition asking for democratic reforms. The UAE tried 94 of them on spurious terrorism charges in the largest mass trial in the country’s history. These defendants were subsequently dubbed the “UAE94.” Among them, 69 defendants were sentenced to prison, with their sentences ranging from 7 to 15 years, followed by a corresponding travel ban. 

Since then, the SSA has continued to perpetrate widespread human rights violations, including enforced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention. For example, SSA officials arrested and forcibly disappeared award-winning human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in 2017 and refused to reveal his whereabouts for over one year. It was later found that he was detained at al-Wathba prison, where he suffered from torture and ill-treatment inflicted by SSA agents.

The SSA operates in great secrecy under the direct control of the UAE President, on the basis of a law that has never been made public. According to a leaked draft from the Emirates Detainee Advocacy Center, the law, which was amended in 2003, grants the SSA broad and unconstrained powers, allowing the SSA to act without any institutional, judicial, or financial oversight. For example, it can gather and analyze information on “any political activity” and “monitor social phenomena.” The SSA President has the power to place suspects in custody up to three months and make any decision that is binding on all security apparatuses. The SSA is also allowed to establish security offices in any federal ministry, government office, embassy, or consulate abroad.

Further enabling its crackdown on civic space, the SSA has jurisdiction over broadly defined crimes of terrorism and security offenses enshrined under the widely criticized 2014 UAE Counterterrorism Law. The latter conflates any acts of public dissent with terrorism and has been found by UN experts to be in violation of international human rights standards. 

As the SSA marks 50 years of existence during a heightened crackdown on UAE civil society, we, the undersigned organizations, condemn the SSA’s gross human rights abuses and widespread repression of public dissent through fabricated ‘terrorism’ charges. We urge UAE authorities to bring the SSA’s legal framework and operations in line with international human rights standards and hold perpetrators of abuses accountable, as well as provide remedy for victims.


  • Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center
    Human Rights Watch
    MENA Rights Group

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