The headline on the story Gulf News published and then removed
A headline on the Emirati website, Gulf News, caught my eye yesterday. It said: "British House of Commons praises human rights in UAE".
Reading the story below the headline it became clear that the "praise" – if that's what it really was – had not come from the House of Commons itself but from a small group of MPs visiting the Emirates. The story began:
The British House of Commons praised the situation of human rights in the UAE.
This came during the delegation’s visit to the Emirates Human Rights Association to learn about the activities and objectives of the society and its mechanism to receive complaints.
The delegation lauded the UAE’s keenness to respect human rights, noting that the UAE is considered one of the countries with the least number of human rights complaints in the Middle East.
It went on to quote Labour MP Stephen Timms as saying: "The situation of human rights in the UAE seems to be good through a general overview, particularly with the existence of a society dedicated to human rights."
But did Timms really say what he was reported to have said? Possibly not, because this morning the story has disappeared from the Gulf News website without explanation. A cached version of the deleted story can be found here.
A story along similar lines also appeared on the website of WAM, the Emirati government's news agency. It was headed: "House of Commons MPs laud UAE human rights record".
That, too, has now been deleted without explanation though a cached version can be found here.
The Emirati government's version of the story began as follows:
The House of Commons received no complaints about violations of rights of construction workers in the UAE recently, an indication of the UAE's commitment to international labour standards, a delegation from the British Parliament said during a visit to the Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA).
Members of the United Kingdom-United Arab Emirates All-Party Parliamentary Group of the House of Commons, Mr Stephen Timms and Mrs Flick Drummond [a Conservative MP], were given an insight by EHRA Chairman Mohammed Salem Al Kaabi into the UAE human rights watchdog's programme of activities, mission, vision and mechanism for receiving and handling complaints, including those from workers, along with its mandate to promote the culture of upholding human rights in the local community ...
The British MPs valued the UAE's commitment to respecting human rights, noting that the UAE had the fewest human rights complaints among the Middle East countries ...
Mrs Flick Drummond said the EHRA was doing a good job, noting that the House of Commons had concerns about construction workers being subjected to violations but we had received no complaints so far in this regards.
This, she affirmed, proved that both the UAE and EHRA were moving on the right track.
However, in both stories the most fulsome praise for the UAE's rights record seems to have come from Mr Kaabi of the Emirates Human Rights Association. The activities of NGOs in the UAE are tightly controlled by the authorities – which may help to explain his remarkably favourable view of the situation.
In 2013, amid allegations of torture, a mass trial of 94 critics of the government was condemned as unfair by international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, Kaabi's EHRA insisted the trial was "fair and just":
Observers who monitored the trial of the 94 accused from their detention until the verdict was delivered found it was conducted in an atmosphere of transparency and clarity, the Emirates Human Rights Association said yesterday.
Association board members said the trial and verdict were fair and just, and the judges honest and diligent in their handling of the case.
Last year, Kaabi also praised a new Emirati law which cracked down on religious debate under the guise of preventing "hate speech". Vaguely-worded provisions in the decree gave the authorities power to suppress virtually any kind of religious discourse they happen to disapprove of.
Kaabi described this as "an advanced civilised step to protect the rights and dignity of citizens and residents", according to the government news agency.
The US State Department, in its most recent report on human rights in the UAE (relating to 2014) said:
The three most significant human rights problems were citizens’ inability to change their government; limitations on citizens’ civil liberties (including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and internet use); and arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and lengthy pretrial detentions.
Other reported human rights problems included police and prison guard brutality. The government continued to interfere with citizens’ privacy rights, including increased arrests and detentions following individuals’ internet postings or commentary. There were limited reports of corruption, and the government lacked transparency and judicial independence.
Domestic abuse and violence against women remained problems. Noncitizens faced legal and societal discrimination. Legal and societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained problems.
Trafficking in persons, mistreatment and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers, and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained problems, although the government took steps to prevent them. The government restricted worker rights.
Apostasy – renunciation of Islam by Muslims – is punishable in the UAE by death, though there have been no recent executions. Since Mr Timms, the MP for East Ham, is an active Christian he may be interested to know of these further restrictions on religion in the UAE:
The constitution states that Islam is the official religion.
The law denies Muslims the freedom to change religion.
The law forbids proselytising of Muslims by non-Muslims.
Courts apply sharia (Islamic law) for most family law matters, e.g., marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and on rare occasions for criminal matters.
The government prohibits distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation.
The government (through the Awqaf) administers Sunni mosques, many of which must follow government-approved sermons.
The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses on the outside of their premises.
The government does not permit instruction in any religion other than Islam in state schools.
Private schools found to be teaching subjects that offend Islam, defame any religion, or contravene the country’s ethics and beliefs face possible closure.
Islamic studies are mandatory in public schools and in private schools serving Muslim children.
Muslim men may not marry non-Muslim women unless they are "people of the book" (i.e. Christian or Jewish).
Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.
The law grants custody of children of non-Muslim women to the Muslim father in the event of a divorce.
A non-Muslim woman who fails to convert is ineligible for naturalisation as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless named as a beneficiary in his will.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Monday, 4 April 2016