U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - United Arab Emirates
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - United Arab Emirates , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7710.html [accessed 20 April 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates established in 1971. None has any democratically elected institutions or political parties. Traditional rule in the emirates generally has been patriarchal, with political allegiance defined in terms of loyalty to the tribal leaders. Political leaders in the emirates are not elected, but citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders via traditional mechanisms, such as the open majlis, or council. In accordance with the 1971 Constitution, the seven emirate rulers constitute a Federal Supreme Council, the highest legislative and executive body. The Council selects a President and Vice President from its membership; the President in turn appoints the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Constitution requires the Council to meet annually, although individual leaders meet frequently in more traditional settings. The Cabinet manages the Federation on a day-to-day basis. A consultative body, the Federal National Council (FNC), consisting of advisors appointed by the emirate rulers, has no legislative authority but questions government ministers in open sessions and makes policy recommendations to the Cabinet. Each emirate retains control over its own oil and mineral wealth, some aspects of internal security, and some regulation of internal and external commerce. The Federal Government asserts primacy in matters of foreign and defense policy, some aspects of internal security, and increasingly in matters of law and the supply of some government services. The judiciary generally is independent, but its decisions are subject to review by the political leadership.
Each emirate maintains its own independent police force. While all emirate internal security organs theoretically are branches of one federal organization, in practice they operate with considerable independence.
The UAE has a free market economy based on oil and gas production, trade, and light manufacturing. The Government owns the majority share of the petroleum production enterprise in the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi. The Emirate of Dubai is likewise an oil producer, as well as a growing financial and commercial center in the Gulf. The remaining five emirates have negligible petroleum or other resources and therefore depend in varying degrees on federal government subsidies, particularly for basic services such as health care, electricity, water, and education. The economy provides citizens with a high per capita income, but it is heavily dependent on foreign workers, who constitute at least 80 percent of the general population.
The Government continued to restrict human rights in a number of areas including the denial of the right of citizens to change their government and the right to a speedy trial, and limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. The press continued to avoid direct criticism of the Government and exercised self-censorship. Women continue to make progress in education and in the work force, but some discrimination persists, including restrictions on their ability to own property. The Government limits worker rights.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture or degrading treatment, and there were no confirmed reports of torture. There are consistent but unconfirmed reports from foreign prisoners of beatings and coerced confessions by police during initial detention. The Government conducted internal investigations of these reports, and maintained that they were groundless. Shari'a (Islamic law) courts frequently impose flogging (except in Dubai) on Muslims found guilty of adultery, prostitution, and drug or alcohol abuse. In practice flogging is administered in accordance with Shari'a so as to prevent major or permanent injuries. The individual administering the lashing traditionally holds a Koran under the arm and swings the whip using the forearm only. According to press accounts, punishments for adultery and prostitution have ranged from 39 to 200 lashes. Individuals convicted of drunkenness have been sentenced to 80 lashes.
The Federal Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that convictions in the Shari'a courts do not necessarily require the imposition of Shari'a penalties on non-Muslims, but such sentences have been carried out in a few cases.
In June 1998, a Shari'a court in Fujairah sentenced three Omani nationals convicted of robbery to have their right hands amputated. The Fujairah prosecutor's office stated that it did not intend to carry out the sentence and instead commuted the sentence to a term of imprisonment.
In central prisons that hold long-term inmates, prisoners are provided with food, medical care, and adequate sanitation facilities, but sleep on slabs built into cell walls. Each prisoner is provided with four blankets. Only some blocks of the central prisons are air-conditioned during the intense heat and humidity of the summer. The Government gradually is phasing air conditioning into the prisons. Currently, prisoners with medical conditions are placed in air-conditioned rooms during the summer months. Prisoners not under investigation and not involved in drug cases may receive visitors up to three times each week and may also make occasional local telephone calls. In Dubai Emirate, most prisoners are allowed family visits and a number of telephone calls.
The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arrest, search, detention, or imprisonment, except in accordance with the law, and authorities respect these provisions in practice. The laws of each emirate prohibit arrest or search without probable cause.
Under the Criminal Procedures Code, the police must report arrests within 48 hours to the Attorney General, who must determine within the next 24 hours whether to charge, release, or order further detention pending an investigation. The Attorney General may order that detainees be held for up to 21 days without charge. After that time, the authorities must obtain a court order for further detention without charge.
Although the code does not specify a right to a speedy trial, authorities bring detainees to trial in reasonable time. Trials may last a substantial period of time, depending on the seriousness of the charges, number of witnesses, and availability of judges. There is no formal system of bail, but the authorities temporarily may release detainees who deposit money or an important document such as a passport. The law permits incommunicado detention, but there is no evidence that it is practiced. Defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter, may be denied release in accordance with the local custom of protecting the defendant from the victim's aggrieved family. However, bail usually is permitted, after a payment of "diya," a form of financial compensation for death or injury cases.
Review of criminal cases by the office of the President in Abu Dhabi, and bureaucratic delays in processing prisoners or releasing them, sometimes result in detainees serving additional, unnecessary time in the central prisons (see Section 1.e.). Some bureaucratic delays have kept prisoners incarcerated for as long as several months beyond their court-mandated release dates. The Constitution prohibits exile, and it is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary; however, its decisions are subject to review by the political leadership.
There is a dual system of Shari'a and civil courts. The civil courts generally are part of the federal system and are answerable to the Federal Supreme Court, located in Abu Dhabi, which has the power of judicial review as well as original jurisdiction in disputes between emirates or between the Federal Government and individual emirates. Courts and other parts of the judicial system in the Emirate of Dubai tend to maintain independence from the federal system.
The Shari'a courts are administered by each emirate but also are answerable to the Federal Supreme Court. In 1994 the President decreed that the Shari'a courts, and not the civil courts, would have the authority to try almost all types of criminal cases. The decree did not affect the emirates of Dubai, Umm Al-Qaiwain, and Ras Al-Khaimah, which have lower courts independent of the federal system.
Legal counsel may represent defendants in both court systems. Under the new Criminal Procedures Code, the accused has a right to counsel in all cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment. Only the Emirate of Dubai has a public defender's office. If the defendant is indigent, the Government will provide counsel. However, in Dubai the Government provides indigents counsel only in felony cases. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that a defendant in an appeals case has a "fundamental right" to select his attorney and that this right supersedes a judge's power to appoint an attorney for the defendant.
The right to legal counsel is interpreted to mean that the accused has access to an attorney only after the police have completed their investigation. Thus, the police can question accused persons – sometimes for days or weeks, as in narcotics cases – without the benefit of legal counsel.
Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. There are no jury trials. A single judge normally renders the verdict in each case, whether in Shari'a or civil courts; three judges sit for Dubai felony cases. All trials are public, except national security cases and those deemed by the judge likely to harm public morality. Most judges are foreign nationals, primarily from other Arab countries; however, the Ministry of Justice has trained some citizens as judges and prosecutors.
Each court system has an appeal process. Death sentences may be appealed to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the President of the Federation. Non-Muslims who are tried for criminal offenses in Shari'a courts may receive civil penalties at the discretion of the judge. Shari'a penalties imposed on non-Muslims may be overturned or modified by a higher court.
The Office of the President in the Abu Dhabi Emirate (also known as the Diwan), following the traditional prerogatives of a local ruler, maintains the practice of reviewing many types of criminal and civil offenses (such as alcohol use, drug-related cases, firearm use, cases involving personal injury, and cases affecting tribal harmony) before cases are released to the prosecutor's office. The Diwan also reviews sentences passed by judges and reserves the right to return cases to the courts on appeal. The Diwan's involvement leads to long delays prior to and following the judicial process, causing prisoners to remain in prison after they have completed their sentence. Although there are reports of intervention by other emirates' rulers in specific cases of personal interest, intervention does not appear to be routine.
The military has its own court system based on Western military judicial practice. Military tribunals try only military personnel. There is no separate national security court system. In Dubai convicted criminals are eligible for executive pardon, often based on humanitarian grounds, once they have served at least half of their sentence.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits entry into homes without the owner's permission, except in accordance with the law. Police may enter homes without a warrant and without demonstrating probable cause; however, officers' actions in searching premises are subject to review, and officers are subject to disciplinary action if they act irresponsibly. Officials other than a police officer must have a court order to enter a private home. Local custom and practice place a high value on privacy, and entry into private homes without the owner's permission is rare. There is no known surveillance of private correspondence. However, foreigners have received sealed publications, such as magazines, through the international mail in which pictures of the naked human figure have been blackened over with a marking pen.
Family law for Muslims is governed by Shari'a and the local Shari'a courts. As such, Muslim women are forbidden to marry non-Muslims. Such a marriage may result in the non-Muslim partner being arrested and tried.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech; however, the Government limits this right in practice. Most persons especially foreign nationals, refrain from criticizing the Government in public.
All published material is subject to Federal Law 15 of 1988, which stipulates that all publications, whether books or periodicals, should be licensed by the Ministry of Education. The law also governs content and contains a list of proscribed subjects. Mindful of these provisions, journalists censor themselves when reporting on government policy, the ruling families, national security, religion, and relations with neighboring states. However, following an October interview with the semiofficial daily newspaper Al-Ittihad, in which Deputy Prime Minister Sultan Bin Zayid Al-Nahyan stated that uncovering inefficiencies in government was one of the duties of the press, Al-Ittihad published a series of articles that criticized unnamed government officials who allegedly neglected their official duties in order to attend to their private business interests. With the encouragement of the Ministry of Information, Al-Ittihad printed several articles and commentaries late in the year that were critical of alleged inefficiencies in the delivery of services by the Ministries of Health and Education.
The abrupt termination in April of the contract of a recently hired editor of Al-Ittihad followed reported criticism of his failure to follow tacit government guidelines regarding the reporting of political issues. No official reason was given for the termination. Also early in the year, the Abu Dhabi Emirate-owned corporation Emirates Media ceased publication of the semiofficial English-language daily Emirates News, apparently for budgetary reasons. In September Emirates Media, which publishes Al-Ittihad and owns Abu Dhabi's radio and television stations, issued a directive forbidding all its employees, including journalists, from speaking with representatives of foreign diplomatic missions without prior approval. Also in September, Dubai Emirate announced plans to open a press club as part of its effort to promote Dubai as a major regional communications hub. The club is intended to provide facilities for the international press, including access to uncensored information, and to serve as a site for open discussions between political and financial figures and journalists.
Many of the local English and Arabic language newspapers are privately owned but receive government subsidies. Foreign publications routinely are subjected to censorship before distribution.
All television and radio stations are government owned and conform to government reporting guidelines. These unpublished guidelines are not always applied consistently. In July Emirates Media purchased Ajman Emirate's radio and television stations, which until then had been the country's only privately owned broadcast outlets. Satellite receiving dishes are widespread and provide access to international broadcasts without apparent censorship. Censors at the Ministry of Information and Culture review imported newspapers, periodicals, books, films, and videos and ban any material considered pornographic, violent, derogatory to Islam, supportive of certain Israeli positions, unduly critical of friendly countries, or critical of the Government or the ruling families. In June the state telephone and Internet monopoly substantially lowered Internet prices for the second time in 2 years and sought to encourage greater use of the Internet. The Internet monopoly uses a proxy server that appears aimed, in most instances, at blocking material regarded as pornographic or as promoting radical Islamic ideologies. The proxy server does not appear, in most cases, to block news services or political expression unrelated to radical Islam, or material originating from specific countries. However, the Internet monopoly solicits suggestions from users regarding "objectionable" sites and sometimes has responded by briefly blocking some politically oriented sites, which were, after an apparent review, later unblocked.
The unwritten but generally recognized ban on criticism of the Government also restricts academic freedom, although in recent years academics have been more open in their criticism.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government tightly restricts the freedom of peaceful assembly. Organized public gatherings require a government permit. Each emirate determines its own practice on public gatherings. Some emirates are relatively tolerant of seminars and conferences on sensitive subjects. Citizens normally confine their political discussions to the numerous gatherings or majlis, which are held in private homes. There are no restrictions on such gatherings.
The Government tightly restricts freedom of association. Unauthorized political organizations are prohibited. All private associations, including children's clubs, charitable groups, and hobby associations, must be approved and licensed by local authorities; however, this requirement is enforced only loosely in some emirates. Private associations must follow the Government's censorship guidelines if they publish any material.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution designates Islam as the official religion, and Islam is also the official religion of each of the seven emirates. The Constitution also provides for the freedom to exercise religious worship in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, the Government controls all mosques and prohibits proselytizing. Citizens are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but Shi'a Muslims also are free to worship and maintain mosques. Most mosques are government funded or subsidized, and the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs ensures that clergy do not deviate from approved topics in their sermons.
Non-Muslims are free to practice their religion but may not proselytize publicly or distribute religious literature. The Government does not recognize all non-Muslim religions. In those emirates that officially recognize and thereby grant a legal identity to non-Muslim religious groups, only a limited number of Christian groups are granted such recognition. While recognizing the difference between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity, the authorities make no legal distinction between denominations within these Christian groups, particularly between Protestant denominations. Several often unrelated Christian congregations are required to share common facilities because of official limitations on the number of Christian denominations that are recognized officially. Non-Muslim and non-Christian religions have no legal identity in any of the emirates. Partly as a result of emirate policies regarding recognition of non-Muslim denominations, facilities for Christian congregations are far greater in number and size than those for non-Christian and non-Muslim groups, despite the fact that Christians are a small minority of non-Muslim foreigners. Major cities have Christian churches, some of which are built on land donated by the ruling families. A new Catholic church was opened in Sharjah in 1997 and a new Armenian Orthodox church in 1998, both with public ceremonies. The Government of Dubai Emirate donated a parcel of land in Jebel Ali in 1998 for the construction of a facility to be shared by four Protestant congregations and a Catholic congregation. Land also was designated in Jebel Ali for the construction of a second Christian cemetery. Some emirates permit Hindu and Sikh temples to exist. There are no Buddhist temples; however, Buddhists, along with Hindus and Sikhs, in cities without public facilities, conduct religious ceremonies in private homes without interference. Other religious communities (mostly of foreigners residing in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) include Ismailis, Parsis, and Iranian Baha'is. In 1998 Abu Dhabi Emirate donated land for the construction of a second Christian cemetery near Bani Yas because the existing facility near Umm Al Nar is nearly full. The Emirate also designated land for the establishment of the country's first Baha'i cemetery. The Government permits foreign clergy to minister to expatriate congregations. Non-Muslim religious groups are permitted to engage in private charitable activities and to send their children to private schools. In January Dubai Emirate established a center for the promotion of cultural understanding aimed at expanding contact between the citizen and foreign populations. One of the center's goals is to expose foreigners to aspects of the indigenous culture, including Islam.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no limitations on freedom of movement or relocation within the country, except for security areas such as defense and oil installations.
Unrestricted foreign travel and emigration are permitted to male citizens except those involved in financial disputes under adjudication. A husband may bar his wife and children from leaving the country. All citizens have the right to return. There is a small population of stateless residents, many of whom have lived in the country for more than one generation. They are Bedouins or the descendants of Bedouins who are unable to prove that they are of UAE origin. There is no formal procedure for naturalization, although foreign women receive citizenship by marriage to a citizen, and anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat. Because they are not of the original tribal groups, naturalized citizens may have their passports and citizenship status revoked for criminal or politically provocative actions. Such revocations are rare.
Citizens are not restricted in seeking or changing employment. However, foreign nationals in specific occupations, primarily professional, may not change employers without first leaving the country for 6 months. During 1997 in an effort to liberalize employment regulations, the Federal Government removed the 6-month ban from some of these professions. Foreign nationals involved in disputes with citizen employers may be blacklisted by the employer with immigration authorities, effectively preventing their return.
The Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. It may detain persons seeking refugee status, particularly non-Arabs, while they await resettlement in a third country.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
There are no democratically elected institutions, and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. Although there are consultative councils at the federal and emirate levels, most executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council. The seven emirate rulers, their extended families, and those persons and families to whom they are allied by historical ties, marriage, or common interest wield most political power in their respective emirates. Decisions at the federal level are generally made by consensus of the sheiks of the seven emirates and leading families.
A federal consultative body, called the Federal National Council, consists of advisers appointed by the rulers of each emirate. The FNC has no legislative authority but may question ministers and make policy recommendations to the Cabinet. Its sessions are usually open to the public.
The choice of a new emirate ruler falls to the ruling family in consultation with other prominent tribal figures. By tradition rulers and ruling families are presumed to have the right to rule, but their incumbency ultimately depends on the quality of their leadership and their responsiveness to their subjects' needs. Emirate rulers are accessible, in varying degrees, to citizens who have a problem or a request.
Tradition rather than law has limited the political role of women. Women are free to hold government positions, but there are few women in senior positions. There are no female members of the FNC. In 1998 President Zayid's wife, Shaykha Fatima, who is chairwoman of the Women's Federation, announced the Government's intention to appoint a number of women as special observers at the FNC. These observers are to learn the procedures of the FNC, and it is expected that some later may be appointed as members. The observers have not been named yet. In a magazine interview, Shaykha Fatima stated that women participate in the preparation of legislation dealing with social issues through recommendations made by the Women's Federation, and that women are only "steps away" from full political participation. At the same time, she emphasized her view that the eventual appointment of women to the FNC and other government positions would be "a responsibility rather than an honor," requiring careful prior preparation. Although the small Shi'a minority has enjoyed commercial success, few Shi'a Muslims have top positions in the Federal Government.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no independent human rights groups. Government restrictions on freedom of the press and public association make it difficult for such groups to investigate and publicly criticize the Government's human rights restrictions. A human rights section exists within Dubai Emirate's police force to monitor allegations of human rights abuses. Informal public discussions of human rights, press reports of international human rights forums' activities, and media coverage of selected local human rights problems, such as foreign workers' conditions, are increasing public awareness of human rights.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equality before the law with regard to race, nationality, religious beliefs, or social status. However, there is institutional and cultural discrimination based on sex, nationality, and religion.
There are reported cases of spousal abuse. Police units are stationed at major public hospitals so that victims of abuse may file complaints, or attending physicians may call upon the police to interview suspected victims of abuse. However, women sometimes are reluctant to file formal charges for social, cultural, and economic reasons. When abuse is reported the local police, authorities may take action to protect women from such abuse. The laws protect women from verbal abuse or harassment from men, and violators are subject to criminal action. There continue to be credible reports of abuse of female domestic servants by some local and foreign employers (see Section 6.e.).
Prostitution has become an increasingly open phenomenon in recent years, particularly in Dubai. Although no accurate statistics are available, substantial numbers of women appear to be arriving from the states of the former Soviet Union for temporary stays during which they engage in prostitution and possibly other activities connected with organized crime. Substantial numbers of prostitutes also appear to come from Africa and South Asia. During the year, Dubai police established special patrols in areas frequented by prostitutes in an effort to control the phenomenon.
Most women play a subordinate role in this family-centered society because of early marriages and traditional attitudes about women's activities and are allowed full ownership only of tailor shops and beauty parlors. Husbands may bar their wives and children from leaving the country (see Section 2.d.), and a married woman may not accept employment without her husband's written consent. Islamic law is applied in cases of divorce. Courts usually grant custody to the father regardless of the child's age in divorce cases. In most cases involving children under the age of 7 years, the mother is granted temporary custody, which then reverts to the father at the age of 7 years. Older children live with their fathers unless judicial authorities decide otherwise. A woman who remarries forfeits her right to the custody of children from a previous marriage. Islamic law permits polygyny.
Women are restricted from holding majority shares in most businesses. A woman's property is not commingled with that of her husband. Women who work outside the home do not receive equal benefits, such as housing, and may face discrimination in promotion. In June 1995, the Cabinet provisionally extended paid maternity leave for citizen women in the private sector to 3 months at full pay, an increase from 45 days, and up to 1 year's leave at half pay and a second year's leave at quarter pay.
Opportunities for women have grown in government service, education, private business, and health services. According to government figures, 19.4 percent of the country's work force in 1995 was female. The Federal Government publicly has encouraged women to join the work force, ensuring public sector employment for all who apply. According to the available statistics, women constitute 100 percent of nursery school teachers, 55 percent of primary school teachers, 65 percent of intermediate and secondary school teachers, 54.3 percent of health care workers, and 39.8 percent of all government employees. Cultural barriers and the lack of economic necessity have limited female participation. A symposium promoting the rights of women in the labor force was held in 1996. Participants called for increasing rights granted to women including the elimination of the requirement that a husband give approval before his wife may work.
Women continue to make rapid progress in education. They constitute over 75 percent of the student body at the National University in Al-Ain, largely because women, unlike men, rarely study abroad. In 1998 the Government established Zayid University, a second state-run university, with campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, exclusively for women.
Women officially are encouraged to continue their education, and government-sponsored women's centers provide adult education and technical training courses. The Federal armed forces accept female volunteers, who may enroll in a special training course that was started after the Gulf War. The Dubai Police College recruits women, many of whom are deployed at airports, immigration offices, and women's prisons. Over 200 women have graduated from the College so far.
The law prohibits cohabitation by unmarried couples. The Government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. In the event that the courts sentence women to prison for such an offense, local authorities hold the newborn children in a special facility until the mother's release and deportation. Children may remain in this facility longer in the event of a custody dispute. In Dubai Emirate, unmarried pregnant women must marry the father of the child; both parties are subject to arrest for fornication.
The Government is committed to the welfare of children. Children who are citizens receive free health care and education, and are ensured housing. A family also may be eligible to receive aid from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare for sons and daughters who are under the age of 18, unmarried, or disabled. There is no pattern of societal child abuse.
People with Disabilities
There is no federal legislation requiring accessibility for the disabled. However, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sponsors centers that provide facilities and services to the disabled. Services range from monthly social aid funds, special education, and transportation assistance, to sending a team to the Special Olympics.
Discrimination based on national origin, while not legally sanctioned, is prevalent (see Section 2.d.). Employment, immigration, and security policy, as well as cultural attitudes towards foreign workers, are conditioned by national origin.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
There are no unions and no strikes. The law does not grant workers the right to organize unions or to strike. Foreign workers, who make up the bulk of the work force, risk deportation if they attempt to organize unions or to strike.
Since July 1995, the UAE has been suspended from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation insurance programs because of the Government's lack of compliance with internationally recognized worker rights standards.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law does not grant workers the right to engage in collective bargaining, and it is not practiced. Workers in the industrial and service sectors normally are employed under contracts that are subject to review by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Ministry of Interior's Naturalization and Immigration Administration is responsible for reviewing the contracts of domestic employees as part of residency permit processing. The purpose of the review is to ensure that the pay satisfies the employee's basic needs and secures a means of living. For the resolution of work-related disputes, workers must rely on conciliation committees organized by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs or on special labor courts.
Labor laws do not cover government employees, domestic servants, and agricultural workers. The latter two groups face considerable difficulty in obtaining assistance to resolve disputes with employers. While any worker may seek redress through the courts, this process puts a heavy financial burden on those in lower income brackets.
In Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone, the same labor laws apply as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is illegal and not practiced. However, some unscrupulous employment agents bring foreign workers to the country under conditions approaching indenture. The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively. In July authorities acting on information provided by the Pakistani Embassy, located and repatriated an 8-year-old Pakistani boy who allegedly had been kidnaped to work as a camel jockey. Police reportedly are investigating several such cases; however, no charges were filed by year's end (See Sections 6.d. and 6.f.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Labor regulations prohibit employment of persons under the age of 15 and have special provisions for employing those 15 to 18 years of age. The Department of Labor enforces the regulations. Other regulations permit employers to engage only adult foreign workers. In 1993 the Government prohibited the use of children under the age of 15 as camel jockeys and of jockeys who do not weigh more than 99 pounds. The Camel Racing Association is responsible for enforcing these rules. However, many sources report that a significant number of camel jockeys are children under the minimum employment age (see Section 6.f.). Relevant labor laws often are not enforced, as those who own racing camels and employ the children come from powerful local families that are in effect above the law. In 1998 a local newspaper reported the hospitalization of a 5-year-old, 44-pound (20-kilogram), abandoned Bangladeshi child who had been used as a jockey and whose leg had been broken by a camel. Reports of underage camel jockeys continued to surface in the local press during the year. In July authorities, acting on information provided by the Pakistani Embassy, located and repatriated an 8-year-old Pakistani boy who allegedly had been kidnaped to work as a camel jockey. In August a 4-year-old boy from Bangladesh who had been used as a camel jockey was found wandering in the desert after being abandoned there by his handlers. Police reportedly are investigating several of these cases; however, no charges were filed by year's end. Otherwise, child labor is not permitted. The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and generally enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.). The Government does not issue visas for foreign workers under the age of 16 years. Education is compulsory through the intermediate stage, approximately the age of 13 or 14 years.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no legislated or administrative minimum wage. Supply and demand determine compensation. However, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there is an unofficial, unwritten minimum wage rate that would afford a worker and family a minimal standard of living. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry reviews labor contracts and does not approve any contract that stipulates a clearly unacceptable wage (see Section 6.b.).
The standard workday and workweek are 8 hours per day, 6 days per week; however, these standards are not enforced strictly. Certain types of workers, notably domestic servants, may be obliged to work longer than the mandated standard hours. The law also provides for a minimum of 24 days per year of annual leave plus 10 national and religious holidays. In addition manual workers are not required to do outdoor work when the temperature exceeds 112 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most foreign workers receive either employer-provided housing or housing allowances, medical care, and homeward passage from their employers. Most foreign workers do not earn the minimum salary of $1,090 per month (or $817 per month, if a housing allowance is provided in addition to the salary) required to obtain residency permits for their families. Employers have the option to petition for a 6-month ban from the work force against any foreign employee who leaves his job without fulfilling the terms of his contract.
The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, municipalities, and civil defense units enforce health and safety standards. The Government requires every large industrial concern to employ a certified occupational safety officer. An injured worker is entitled to fair compensation. Health standards are not observed uniformly in the housing camps that are provided for foreign workers. Workers' jobs are not protected if they remove themselves from what they consider to be unsafe working conditions. However, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs may require employers to reinstate workers who were dismissed for not performing unsafe work. All workers have the right to lodge grievances with Ministry officials, who make an effort to investigate all complaints. However, the Ministry is understaffed and underbudgeted; complaints and compensation claims are backlogged.
Rulings on complaints may be appealed within the Ministry and ultimately to the courts. However, many workers choose not to protest for fear of reprisals or deportation. The press periodically carries reports of abuses suffered by domestic servants, particularly women, at the hands of some employers. Allegations have included excessive work hours, nonpayment of wages, and verbal and physical abuse.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however, child smuggling is a crime.
There have been reports in recent years that underage boys are smuggled into the country and used as camel jockeys. For example, in 1998 a local newspaper reported the hospitalization of a 5-year-old, 44-pound, abandoned Bangladeshi child who had been used as a jockey and whose leg had been broken by a camel. Reports of underage camel jockeys continued to appear in the local press during the year. In July authorities, acting on information provided by the Pakistani Embassy, located and repatriated an 8-year-old Pakistani boy who allegedly had been kidnaped to work as a camel jockey. In August a 4-year-old boy from Bangladesh who had been used as a camel jockey was found wandering in the desert after being abandoned there by his handlers. There were reports that in some instances, South Asian boys, generally from Pakistan and Bangladesh, were smuggled into the country by small, organized groups. Police reportedly are investigating several of these cases; however, no charges were filed by year's end.
In 1993 the Government prohibited the use of children under the age of 15 as camel jockeys and of jockeys who do not weigh more than 99 pounds. The Camel Racing Association is responsible for enforcing these rules. However, many sources report that a significant number of camel jockeys are children under the minimum employment age. Relevant labor laws often are not enforced, as those who own racing camels and use the children come from powerful local families that are in effect above the law.
Although no accurate statistics are available, substantial numbers of women appear to be arriving from the states of the former Soviet Union for temporary stays during which they engage in prostitution and possibly other activities connected with organized crime. Substantial numbers of prostitutes also appear to come from Africa and South Asia (see Section 5).