Revocation of nationalities in the United Arab Emirates
The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) expresses its deep concern over the continuous and arbitrary use of citizenship revocation by the authorities of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a mean of repression against Emirati activists, politicians, and human rights defenders. The ICJHR is further concerned by the consequences of this practice which leads to the denial of the most basic rights of the persons concerned.
According to the information gathered, the Emirati authorities deliberately strip human rights defenders and political activists of their nationality following the violation of their fundamental rights and their prosecution in unfair trials.
Mass trials and nationality withdrawal
The Emirati authorities harassed several political activists and human rights defenders having signed the petition in March 2011, which called on the President of the United Arab Emirates to elect a national council that will be given full powers. Following the petition, the State Security Apparatus arrested the political dissidents, human rights defenders and bloggers involved and transferred them to unknown locations. Moreover, several detainees reported having been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment during the investigation. They were also prevented from their right to consult a lawyer and to receive family visits.
The rights of the human rights defenders arrested in the context of the petition calling for the election of a national council were furthermore violated as they were referred before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, whose judgments were, at the time, final and allowed no appeal. The accused were tried solely for calling for a peaceful reform, for expressing their solidarity with the victims of human rights violations and for posting on social medias.
We further recall that the laws on the grounds of which the judgment was given, the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on combating cybercrimes and the Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on combating terrorist crimes, are not in line with international human rights standards or the rule of law. Also, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, reported during her visit to the UAE on January 27, 2014, a breach of the Emirati constitution, which is supposed to guarantee freedom of expression, in addition to the violation by the UAE officials of the relevant international conventions.
The citizenship revocation affected several of the accused in the “UAE 94” case, a mass trial that was condemned by many human rights organizations. Moreover, several UN special rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention classified the procedure as an unfair trial that lacked due process and violated international standards. Therefore, several international bodies called for the release of the 61 convicted, amongst whom the following were stripped of their nationality:
- Sheikh Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq Siddiq
- Dr. Hussein Al Hammadi
- Dr. Shaheen Abdullah Al Hosni
- Mr. Hussein Munif al-Jabri
- Mr. Hassan Munif al-Jabri
- Prof. Ibrahim Hassan Al Marzouki
- Prof. Ahmed Ghaith Al Suwaidi
The Emirati authorities perceived the opposition of political activists to the UAE’s policy, their disclosure of the authorities’ disregard towards fundamental freedoms and denial of political reforms as a threat to nationality security. The authorities therefore saw a reason to deprive the reformists of their nationality, on the grounds of Article 16 of the UAE Nationality Law No. 17 of 1972.
Nationality revocation: procedure and legislation
At the beginning of 2016, fifteen cases of nationality withdrawal were reported, some of which included the whole family (father, mother and children and even the grandchildren) while other cases applied only to the father and children without the mother. The ICJHR has been informed that the total number of the persons who were stripped of their nationality has reached 60 individuals.
According to the information received, the Directorate for Naturalization and Residence is the authority in the UAE summons the concerned persons under the pretext of a document renewal, asks them to bring their state-issued papers, including their identity documents as well as their driving license and then confiscate all the documents. Subsequently, the Directorate informs the persons that their nationality has been revoked and that they will be arrested for illegal stay if they do not take an alternative nationality.
For instance, Mr. Obaid Ali Al Kaabia, an Emirati citizen and one of the elders and notable members of the tribe of Bani kaab, was arrested and forcibly disappeared by the State Security Apparatus, before being released and arbitrarily revoked, along with his wife and children, of his Emirati nationality for representing a threat to national security.
The case of Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Mohammed Siddiq, a citizen who was born in Sharjah and is currently detained in the Al Rezin prison following a 10 year sentence in the above-mentioned mass trial known as the “UAE 94”, also illustrates the arbitrary withdrawal of nationality that Emirati nationals are exposed to. According to our information, Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Mohammed Siddiq’s children, Asma, Du’a and Omar, were asked to present themselves before the Directorate for Naturalization and Residence with their official documents, which included their passport, identity card, driving license and health insurance card. The officials claimed that their documents were going to be updated when they were, in fact, confiscated. The three siblings were subsequently revoked from their nationality. The authorities claimed that the procedure for the withdrawal of their nationality was based on a presidential decree, which has, to date, not been named or made public.
The repressive measures against human rights defenders taken by the United Arab Emirates are based on the following legislation:
- Article 8 of the United Arab Emirates Constitution (the Constitution): “The citizens of the Union shall have a single nationality which shall be prescribed by law. When abroad, they shall enjoy the protection of the Union Government in accordance with accepted international principles. No citizen of the Union may be deprived of his nationality nor may his nationality be withdrawn except in exceptional circumstances which shall be defined by law”.
- Article 114 of the Constitution: “No decree may be issued unless the Council of Ministers has assented to it and the President of the Union or the Supreme Council, according to their powers, has ratified it. Decrees shall be published in the Official Gazette after signature by the President of the Union”.
- Federal Law No 17 of 1972 on Nationality and Passports:
- According to Article 16, paragraph 1, the law allows the possibility of withdrawing citizenship from a naturalized citizen “If he commits or attempts to commit an action which is deemed dangerous for the security or safety of the country”.
- While Article 15 deals with the deprivation of nationality, Article 16 deals with the withdrawal of nationality from the persons who have acquired their nationality by naturalization (paragraph 4: If nationality is withdrawn from a person, it may be accordingly withdrawn from his wife and under-aged children).
- Article 20 defines the legal framework of the decision of the withdrawal of nationality “Nationality shall be granted by a decree based on the representation of the Minister of Interior and approval of Council of Ministers. Denaturalization and withdrawal of nationality are conducted by the same previous procedure”.
- Federal Decree-Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes and Article 121 of the UAE penal code:
- Article 42 asserts that the authorities can deport foreigners who commit crimes in the United Arab Emirates. It however does not provide any clarification on the legal basis which permits authorities to take similar action against the citizens of the United Arab Emirates
- Therefore, these laws do not comply with the relevant international standards settled for the deprivation of nationality.
Non compliance with international standards
The ICJHR would like hereby to recall the texts of the international conventions that recognize the right to a nationality as a fundamental human right and its infringement as one of the most serious human rights violations. In fact, various international conventions have highlighted and emphasized the need to protect this right:
- Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- “Everyone has the right to a nationality”.
- “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”.
- Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which indicates that states should guarantee the right to nationality to everyone without discrimination.
- The Convention on Certain Questions relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws (The Hague Convention) of April 12, 1930.
- Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which asserts that “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality”.
- Article 19 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.
- Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the first paragraph states that “Everyone has the right to nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of his nationality”.
- The International Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954.
- The International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961.
After a careful examination of the Emirati legislation in the light of the above-mentioned international standards, we observe that the UAE laws dealing with the right to a nationality do not lay down any arbitrary prohibition of the deprivation of nationality and fail to provide any safeguards to prevent statelessness. As a matter of fact there is, before taking the decision to revoke a nationality, no procedure to assess its consequences and consider alternative measures before taking the decision. Moreover, it is relevant to recall that under international law any deprivation of nationality that does not serve a legitimate purpose or does not meet the requirement of proportionality is an arbitrary measure and shall be prohibited.
Besides, the Emirati laws do not provide any of the necessary protection for stateless persons required by the international guidelines proclaimed in the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954 and the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961, two documents that the UAE did not ratify.
According to Article 16, paragraph 4 of the Nationality Law, if the nationality is withdrawn from a person, it can subsequently be withdrawn from his wife and children, therefore hindering the children’s right to a nationality.
International standards lay out safeguards for the protection of the right of a child to a nationality as stated by Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity and shall ensure the fundamental right of every child to a nationality and provide the possible of measures for the acquisition of nationality by a child who would otherwise be stateless” and highlighted in the report A/HRC/25/28 of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on December 19, 2013.
Lack of procedural safeguards and guarantees
According to the information received with regards to the past cases of nationality revocation, the UAE authorities, when depriving someone of his nationality, did not entitle the person of the right to examine the legal basis (Presidential Decree), which allowed the nationality revocation.
The decision to give or revoke someone’s nationality in the UAE is regulated under article 20 of the Nationality Law and through a decree issued by the president following on a request of the Minister of Interior, which had prior approval of the Cabinet. Consequently, after being signed by the President, the decree ought to be published in the Official Gazette, according to Article 114 of the UAE Constitution.
However, the authorities have so far prevented those who have suffered from a nationality revocation to have access to the decrees that provide the legal grounds for their nationality removal. Besides, Emirati officials have yet to publish the above-mentioned decrees in the Official Gazette, and have informed the persons concerned about the existence of such decree allowing the revocation of their nationality and citizenship without providing a copy of it.
Asma, the daughter of the political prisoner Mr. Mohamed Abdel-Razzaq Mohammed Siddiq, was deprived of her Emirati nationality and saw all of her official documents confiscated. She then asked an employee at the Directorate for Naturalization and Residence to give her a copy of the Decree establishing her nationality revocation but her request was however denied, as the employee emphasized that he was only following the procedure.
Ms. Asma Mohamed Abdel-Razzaq Mohammed Siddiq further reported that the Directorate’s employee mislead her and her siblings, Omar and Du’a, when he took their documents by claiming that they needed to be updated, whereas he revoked their nationality thus making them stateless.
On April 20, 2016, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders requested the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to clarify the deprivation of nationality of the Al Siddiq siblings. The Emirati officials’ response justified the revocation on the grounds of an existing decree and on the fact that their father nationality had been obtained through a naturalization, which justified the withdrawal of his children’s nationality. The ICJHR however recalls that Sheikh Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq Siddiq acquired the Emirati citizenship by law and not by naturalization as he was born in the UAE and holds a single nationality. His children were also born in the UAE. It is relevant to further note that only the three siblings with an online activism background, and none of the other seven siblings, were stripped of their citizenship, which shows that the three siblings, Asma, Du’a and Omar, were targeted solely for their human rights activities in support of their detained father.
Depriving victims of their right to appeal
The report A/HRC/25/28 of the Secretary-General of the United Nations dated December 19, 2013, emphasized the need for decisions relating to nationality to be submitted to an effective judicial review. Moreover, in the case of a loss or a denial of nationality, the person remains a citizen of the concerned state during the appeal proceedings.
Furthermore, the government should guarantee the right to a judicial appeal to the victims of an arbitrary denial of nationality, as provided by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which asserts that states shall “ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;(…) ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy”.
Article 19 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam also highlights that states shall ensure that everyone must have right to resort to the judiciary and that depriving any citizen from appealing any right violating including the right to nationality is contrary to the right to access the judiciary.
To date, the UAE authorities have not yet ratified or acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, despite the promise to consider the question made during the Universal Periodic Review of 2013. The UAE also failed to its commitment to provide the victims of arbitrary nationality revocation with a copy of the decree justifying the withdrawal, in order to appeal the decision in court or before other administrative bodies.
On March 21, 2013, during the Universal Periodic Review, the representatives of Denmark already expressed their concern with regards to the revocation of the citizenship of Emirati political activists.
The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights in Geneva therefore calls upon the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to:
- Enable the persons stripped of their nationality to have an effective judicial and administrative appeal against the decrees that provided for their nationality revocation.
- Publish citizenship in the Official Gazette and make available to all the decrees justifying the revocations of nationality and thus in accordance with Article 114 of the UAE constitution.
- Review the decisions allowing the arbitrary withdrawal of nationality of Emirati human rights defenders and their families, and therefore their situation as stateless persons.
- Ratify the International Conventions that guarantee the protection of the right to nationality, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954 and the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961.
- Join the initiative launched by the UNHCR that aims to put an end by 2024 to the phenomenon of stateless, also known as "Al Bidoon".