NGOs demand an end to human rights abuses in UAE at UN Human Rights Council
Today, at a UN side-event in Geneva, NGOs called for a drastic improvement in the human rights situation in the UAE and Oman, following years of state-sponsored repression.
The event, hosted by the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), coincided with the sixth anniversary of the infamous ‘UAE 94’ trials, which resulted in the conviction of 69 social and political activists in the UAE for signing a petition calling for democratic reforms in the Emirates.
Describing the case as ‘a watershed moment for repression in the Gulf state’, ICFUAE’s Sofia Kaltenbrunner reminded the various delegations present of the continued detention of Mohammed al-Roken, an award-winning human rights lawyer, who remains behind bars in Abu Dhabi’s ‘notoriously repressive’ al-Razeen prison.
The sentences of the ‘UAE 94’ detainees, including al-Roken’s, are due to expire in the coming years. However, it is not yet clear whether they will, in fact, be freed. In recent years, there has been an increase in practices of administrative detention in the UAE. Imene Beny, from the International Campaign for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR), referenced cases of political prisoners in the UAE being held indefinitely beyond their release dates. Osama al-Najjar continues to be detained despite completing his sentence over two years ago, in March 2017.
Citing the implementation of the UAE’s vaguely worded 2013 cybercrime law, Kaltenbrunner said since the ‘UAE94’ trials, scores of activists had been detained and convicted for little more than expressing a political opinion online.
Today’s panellists called for the cybercrime law, as well as the UAE’s ‘broadly defined’ anti-terrorism legislation, to be amended and brought in line with human rights legislation, arguing that, at present, both were merely being used as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of speech.
Repression in UAE spans beyond the arbitrary use of legislation to single out critics of the regime. The use of torture is rampant, with beatings and electroshocks widespread. Ahmed Mansoor, one of the most prominent political activists in the UAE, has been in detention, “much of it in solitary confinement, the prolonged use of which is a form of torture”, said Clara Sanchez Lopez of the Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB).
Emirati torture tactics stretch beyond their territory. Male detainees have been subjected to sexual violence in UAE-administered detention centres in Yemen, with a group of UN-appointed experts finding evidence of cruel treatment at Al Rayyan and Bureiqa facilities.
Panellists highlighted the need for the UAE’s nefarious practices to be placed in a broader regional context of repression. In addition to silencing domestic dissent, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states also target those speaking out on geopolitical issues, such as the war in Yemen. "Criticism of an allied country can earn you a prison sentence,'' said ADHRB’s Tyler Pry.
Panellists agreed that despite a regional trend of repressive tactics, Oman’s human rights violations did not receive enough coverage. Khalfan Al-Badwawi, a survivor of enforced disappearances, said that in Oman “a constant state of terror is a normal way of life”. The monarchical state imprisons those who criticise the government, assemble peacefully or establish political parties. Hasan Albasham, unable to raise his poor health in court, died from hypoglycemia during his prison sentence for, amongst other charges, “insulting the Sultan”.
All organisations present urged the UN Human Rights Council to raise the human rights records of the UAE and Oman, which, they said, was ‘deserving of serious concern’.