(MintPress) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among a band of U.S. allied Arab countries currently struggling to keep up with a deteriorating human rights situation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2013.
According to last week’s report, “The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) worsened in 2012 as authorities arbitrarily detained and deported civil society activists, and harassed and intimidated their lawyers.”
Over the past year, authorities detained 66 human rights defenders and civil society activists, including prominent human rights lawyers Mohammad al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori, without charge on the pretext that they aimed to harm national security.
All of the 66 detained human rights activists had ties to al-Islah, believed by HRW to be a peaceful Islamist movement that has advocated for political reform in the UAE. The whereabouts of all but two of the detainees remain unknown.
The whereabouts of 11 Egyptian nationals, detained in December on alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, also remain unknown. Roughly 50 Syrian nationals, suspected of attending a demonstration in front of the Syrian consulate in Dubai, were called in for questioning and stripped of their residency permits last February.
The report also hinted at the role of international actors in addressing the UAE’s human rights issues, stating, “Key allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom have refrained from publicly criticizing the UAE’s crackdown on freedom of expression and repression of civil society, although U.S. officials say that they have raised these issues privately.”
Despite private criticism, the United States still signed a $3.48 billion dollar deal with the UAE to provide a missile defense system that will be delivered through 2018.
In addition to the billion dollar agreement made in December 2011, the UAE asked the United States for another $1.135 billion dollars in November 2012 for 48 THAAD missiles and nine launchers.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, “If the UAE keeps violating basic human rights and core international prohibitions, it will do major damage to its reputation.”
HRW said the UAE did take one positive step in June by acceding to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, there is still much more work that needs to be done.
Rights of Migrant Workers Ignored
The HRW World Report 2013 emphasized the UAE’s lack of action in addressing long-standing human rights violations faced by the country’s large number of foreign workers.
Foreigners, which account for more than 88.5 percent of UAE residents, have no rights to collectively bargain and face penalties for going on strike. Domestic workers are not even included in UAE labor laws, and are denied basic protections such as limited working hours and time off.
“Across the country, abuses include unsafe work environments, the withholding of travel documents, and low pay or nonpayment of wages, despite a mandatory electronic payment system introduced in 2009,” wrote HRW.
The report noted several additional challenges faced by female domestic workers including unpaid wages, food deprivation, long working hours, forced confinement, and physical and sexual abuse.
Human trafficking of migrant workers was excluded from the HRW report, even though such abuses are heavily documented by watchdog organizations like the online group, Migrant-Rights.
The website, which raises awareness on the plight of migrant/expatriate workers in the Middle East, reported in its January 2013 roundup that two women who were trafficked into the UAE from Nepal were still seeking shelter at the Nepali embassy.
The National, a publication of the Abu Dhabi Media company, interviewed the two maids, who fled their sponsors after undergoing mental and physical abuse. “I came here to raise some money for the education of my younger brother and sisters, but due to such bad treatment I want to go back home,” said one of the women.
The women said they were sold for roughly $2,000 U.S. dollars and experienced sexual assault and physical threats from their sponsors.
The Migrant-Rights January Roundup also cited a high frequency of Filipina rape reports being received in the UAE, referring to a statement in The National by rights group Migrante-UAE. “We’ve been handling rape cases almost every week,” said Karen Tanedo, chairwoman of Migrante-UAE. “It’s really alarming.”
The most recently reported cases involved instances of gang rape or employer rape. “These women are defenseless,” said Kristie Mae Templa, secretary-general of a Filipino women’s rights group called Gabriela-UAE. “Many fail to report the crime because they fear they will end up in prison and be blamed for what happened.”
Migrant-Rights wrote in its 2012 year-end review, “Overall, few, if any, positive developments for domestic workers emerged this year.”
While some positive and critical discussion of migrant rights did take place across the Gulf, the organization said those developments were overshadowed by “bigoted and misleading features.”
While the group is not optimistic that the new year will bring an end to abusive migrant practices, Migrant-Rights did add that if “civil society activism spread through the region, meaningful change can be initiated from the civic level and prompt government reform to follow suit.”
About the World Report 2013
Human Rights Watch’s 23rd annual review of human rights practices around the world summarizes key issues in over 90 countries and territories pertaining to events from the end of 2011 through November 2012.
The report placed special emphasis on the struggles facing Middle Eastern countries two years into the Arab Spring. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRW, said in the introduction to the 665-page document that building a rights-respecting state in place of a history of repression is not easy.
“It can be painstaking work to construct effective institutions of governance, establish independent courts, create professional police units, and train public officials to uphold human rights and the rule of law,” he said. “But these tasks are essential if revolution is not to become a byway to repression by another name.”
Human Rights Watch urges leaders in the Middle East to remember their duty to protect the rights of minorities, women, and other groups at risk. The group urged other countries to be supportive by setting positive examples in domestic policy and by consistently promoting rights in their relations with transitioning governments.
While the transition from revolution to rights-respecting democracy is the main responsibility of the people of the country undergoing change, HRW said other government can still exert significant influence. HRW added that Western support for human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East has remained inconsistent with regard to personal interests in oil, military bases, and Israel.
“Such inconsistency when it comes to holding abusive officials to account fuels arguments by repressive governments that international justice is selective and rarely applied to the allies of Western governments; it also undermines the deterrent value of the International Criminal Court,” said HRW.
The World Report 2013 urges transitioning democracies in the Middle East not to revert back to the enforced predictability of authoritarian regimes. According to Roth, “The path ahead may be treacherous, but the alternative is to consign entire countries to a grim future of oppression.”