what do you think about the UPR recommendations to the United Arab Emirates?

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34th Session of Human Rights Council


Human Rights Challenges in the context of

Counter-Terrorism in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)


Geneva on March 20, 2017

Two non-governmental organisations namely, International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) and Conseil de Jeunesse Pluriculturelle (COJEP) held a side event at Palais des Nations in Geneva on “Human Rights Challenges in the context of Counter-Terrorism: Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Curtailing of Fundamental Freedoms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)” on Tuesday March 14, 2017. There were interventions from Ms. Julia Legner, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf of

Al-Karama Foundation, and Ms. Shazia Arshad, Human Rights Researcher in the Middle East. Apart from the two distinguished speakers, a video presentation on conditions of detention in the context of counter-terrorism in the UAE was also shown to raise awareness of conditions and maltreatments of detainees, particularly, prisoners of conscience in the detention centres in the country.

In the beginning of the conference, Ms. Jittawadee Chotinukul, Human Rights Researcher of International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR), opened the discussion by welcoming all participants and introducing each speaker, sessions of the conference as well as issues to be discussed in the conference.

Ms. Julia Legner, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf, Al-Karama Foundation


Ms. Legner presented that since the Arab Spring, state security and terrorism has been increasingly used as a pretext to crack down on peaceful activists or political opponents. She further shared her insightful comments on legal loopholes in counter- terrorism as follows:

Human rights violations under the pretext of the ‘fight against terrorism’

She pointed out that the 2014 Federal Law No. 7 on Combating
Terrorism Offences provides an extremely broad and vague
definition of terrorism. For instance, Article 1 defines that
‘terrorism’ is any act that would cause ‘unrest or panic among
a group of people’ or that would ‘upset the State’, without specifying for example the violent nature of such act. This, in her opinion, paves the way for criminalization against the protests’ peaceful acts. Moreover, under the terrorism law, the periods of pre-trial detention can be

extended by renewable three-month periods, without detainees being brought before a court, which clearly contravenes the international standards.

Cybercrimes Law

She also discussed about the 2012 Federal Law No. 5 on Combating Cybercrimes that it includes harsh punishments that could go up to life sentence and/or heavy fines subject to severity and seriousness of the cybercrime.

Amendments to the Penal Code

In September 2016, the UAE made amendments to the Penal Code, many of which endanger basic rights including, the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The new law for instance punishes with 10-25 years of imprisonment anyone who ‘insults, mocks, harms the reputation, prestige or statute of the state, its flag, emblem, symbols or any of its institutions’. Other articles further restrict the right to freedom of expression by criminalizing any communication of ideas that ‘endanger State security’, a vague term used to prosecute individuals over twitter posts that denounced human rights abuses in the UAE.


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Ms. Shazia Arshad, Human Rights Researcher in the Middle East


Ms. Arshad presented that despite the UAE Constitution aiming to protect any person from torture i.e. Articles 26 and 28, there are various cases of activists, dissidents and prisoners, who were subject to torture by the UAE authorities. She gave examples of torture and harassment cases of high profile figures namely, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Dr. Al-Roken and Mr. Ahmed Mansoor.

She further shed some light and shared her views on the very interesting question: how the UAE uses its lobbies and connections to conceal its human rights violations. She expressed her opinion that there are few reasons as to why the UAE can get away with its human rights violations i.e. firstly, there is a lack of international action, secondly, there

is no public access to the secured facility since often it is secret locations, and lastly, it’s the close relationship between the UAE and some powerful countries. At the end of her discussion, she also pointed out as to how the UAE uses public relation companies to lobby and present the country’s image on behalf of the UAE.


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Video presentation on conditions of detention in the context of counter-terrorism

The 2014 counter-terrorism law, with its vague and broad definition of ‘terrorism’, has been used as a persecution tool against human rights defenders and critics. The video presentation demonstrates a number of cases of enforced disappearances, secret detentions, and ill- treatments of detainees in the UAE such as cases of Judge Ahmed Zaabi, Issa Al-Siri and Dr. Al-Roken, where counter-terrorism is used to mask the human rights violations by the UAE authorities. 



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