A group of international legal specialists participated in a panel discussion on the side-lines of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council confirming that the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates must be a matter of grave concern to the international community and requires a coordinated response. It was noted there exists a culture of impunity that prevails allowing a system of abuse, manipulation of the criminal judicial and penal system with the criminal courts being used to resolve commercial disputes. During the discussion the lawyers called on the United Nations and the UAE’s diplomatic partners to:
Immediately ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;The UK to consider suspending the UK-UAE Extradition Treaty;The UK, EU & USA suspend all arms trade deals with the UAE until its involvement in the hostilities in Yemen, Libya and Egypt is brought to an official end;The UN Special Procedures Branch establish a fact-finding mission to conduct an inspection of the UAE prison system and its adherence to the international treaties to which it is a member;The UAE urgently adopts a national action plan on the reform of its criminal justice system under the supervision of UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights;The UN Human Rights Council designates the UAE a human rights country of concern during the 38th Session.
The United Arab Emirates recently presented its report on the Universal Periodic Review to the UN Human Rights Council and went through the interactive dialogue where States raised concerns and made a number of recommendations. The panel discussion event was held on the occasion of the adoption of the UPR report.
The human rights situation in the UAE has come under increasing criticism as a result of widespread arbitrary arrest, torture in custody, dire prison conditions, lack of an independent and impartial judiciary and lack of enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms. There have been repeated attacks on journalists, political opponents and hundreds of individuals brought before the criminal courts following commercial disputes with Emiratis. The issue of torture of detainees held in UAE prisons and the use of the judicial system as a means of repression of political opponents and foreign nationals has been the subject of concern for some time, and numerous NGOs have reported on its prevalence.
All of the evidence suggests that the UAE has little or no respect for the Rule of Law, or those rights afforded to individuals before the law.
Countless citizens and foreign nationals have reported being subjected to verbal and physical abuse, beatings – including with weapons, electrocution, and sexual abuse, including rape. Such abhorrent and unlawful tactics have been used to illicit confessions, and also for no other reason than a police or detention officer has taken a dislike to the individual in question.
The position has developed further and it is now alleged that the UAE, as a key member of the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen, is involved in the arbitrary detention and torture of those detained by Yemeni forces and has engaged in hostilities involving the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has further been alleged that the UAE has actively supported campaigns in Egypt and Libya by providing arms and material support to the autocratic military regimes of Khalifa Haftar and Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
Hundreds of individuals have disappeared into a secret network of prisons where abuse is routine and torture extreme.
All of these actions being in contravention of international law and the UAE’s own laws. It is notable that the United Kingdom has adopted a position of refusing to extradite to the UAE because of the human rights concerns.
A number of States raised critical concerns during the UPR over the deteriorating human rights situation that has been further exacerbated by the blockade of the State of Qatar and the conflicts in Yemen and Libya. The purpose of the panel discussion was to look at these concerns and make recommendations to the international community, notably the UN Human Rights Council and UAE’s trade and diplomatic partners such as the European Union, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The panel discussion was opened by Bill Law who provided the background to the discussion and painted a bleak picture of the UAE. Bill focused on the lack of free media and the attack on human rights, focusing on the case of Ahmed Mansoor, detained since March 2017 for criticising the lack of human rights protection and accountability in the UAE and Egypt.
The discussion then moved to a Question-Time format putting a number of topics to the panellists. The first area was a general assessment of the human rights situation. Rod Dixon QC spoke first of his own experience in representing three Qatari nationals tortured in Dubai. He moved on to speak about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and the use of secret prisons in South Yemen. Ben Keith added to the discussion by focusing on the UAE legal framework and the applicability of international treaties. Malcolm Hawkes then spoke of avenues for legal redress in national courts and Toby Cadman addressed the question of international accountability, discussing the role of the international criminal court and the United Nations. Malcolm stressed that the international community was not doing enough and needed to take a much more proactive role in ensuring human rights compliance. In terms of assessing national accountability mechanisms and the use of universal jurisdiction both Rod and Toby focused on their own experiences in the UK representing victims of torture.
Ben Keith stated there is “there is a concern about [the Torture Convention]….as the UAE does not recognise the authority of the Committee against Torture.” He went on to state that provisions of the domestic law are incompatible with the UAE’s international treaty obligations where the former sanctions torture in certain circumstances allowing a culture of impunity to prevail. He noted that the UAE does not abide by or respect any international laws.
The question was raised, following a discussion on the refusal of the English Courts to extradite foreign nationals to the UAE to face trial, as a result of serious concerns as to fair trial guarantees and the real risk of torture, as to whether the UK-UAE Extradition Treaty should be suspended. Toby Cadman stated that proceedings before the UAE Courts constituted a flagrant denial of justice and there was serious concern as to British Judges sitting in the UAE courts providing the system of abuse with a sense of legitimacy. Ben Keith stated that whilst it was complex matter of withdrawing an extradition treaty, the refusal to extradite by the English Courts constituted a de facto suspension.
At the outset of the discussion Rod Dixon QC confirmed that:
“If we start with what is happening within the UAE itself, we see the full raft of crimes against civilians and if we look beyond that what is happening in Yemen and elsewhere in the region, there is hardly a serious international crime that is not being perpetrated by the UAE.”
Speaking on trade values and human rights Malcolm Hawkins stated that:
“What we are in fact talking about is the price that the West is in fact prepared to pay in exchange for the things they value as opposed to the things they don’t value. If we think about things like commerce as trade, we thing about security, the so-called war on terror…and human rights, it’s quite clear that human rights are relegated at the expense of these other areas.”
The speakers then focused on the criminal courts being used to settle commercial disputes between Emiratis and foreign nationals.
Toby Cadman stated that:
“The judicial system in the United Arab Emirates fails to achieve justice, and suffers from the scourge of impunity, which has not yet been successfully addressed. My client David Haigh, who suffered arrest and torture for 22 months in Dubai, is evidence of the corruption in the UAE judicial system, which did not pay attention to his statements about torture and other human rights violations he has been subjected to.”
Ben Keith concluded:
“The UAE authorities use several mechanisms to pressure the detainees to extract confessions, one of them is by threatening to arrest their families. The UAE talks about international law to be part of the international community, yet does not abide by any international laws imposed by that community, especially those which are related to human rights.”
At the end of the discussion Toby Cadman focused on the disappearance of Sheikha Latifa Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Hervé Jean Pierre Joubert, in what could only be described as the most concerning of circumstances. Following this, Toby Cadman informed the audience that Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers has been instructed to file an immediate complaint with the UN Special Procedures Branch, specifically the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment and the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights requesting their urgent and immediate intervention.
Sheikha Latifa, is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and was reported missing on 5 March 2018 along with a dual French-US national, Hervé Jean Pierre Jaubert and a third individual believed to be a national of an European Country.
Summing up the panel discussion, Bill Law stated:
“The key takeaway from four very experienced barristers is not to give up hope that the UAE will be held accountable for its atrocious abuse of human rights. The UPR is a public record, one to be used as a tool to embarrass the regime. Other pressure points include UN Special Procedures, UNHRC, commercial courts, WTO and bilateral agreements and article 20 OHCHR on torture as well as the British government and individual MPs. For the sake of all those incarcerated and abused la lutte se continue – the fight goes forward.”
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Guernica37 International Justice Chambers in London, the non-profit organization Guernica Centre for International Justice in the United States and G37 Despacho Internacional in Madrid, form the Guernica Group. Our international team of lawyers specialize in International Criminal Law and strategic transnational litigation to obtain accountability for international crimes and human rights violations. The Guernica Group seeks to contribute to national processes of accountability by designing legal strategies in partnership with key actors in countries experiencing transitional processes after conflict or post-conflict situations.