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Title:  United Arab Emirates Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996

                       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.  Each emirate retains control over its own oil and 
mineral wealth and some aspects of defense and internal security, 
although the Federal Government asserts primacy in most matters of law 
and government.  Traditional rule in the emirates has generally 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 Provisional Constitution, the seven emirate rulers comprise 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 
Council meets occasionally, although the leaders meet frequently in more 
traditional settings.  The Cabinet manages the Federation on a day to 
day basis.

Each emirate maintains its own police force, but only the Federal 
Government and the Emirate of Dubai have independent internal security 

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 exporter, 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 comprise at least 80 
percent of the general population.

The Government continued to restrict human rights in a number of areas; 
e.g., denial of the right of citizens to change their government, and 
limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and 
worker rights.  Women continue to make progress in education and in the 
work force, but some types of discrimination persist.  The press 
continued to avoid direct criticism of the government and exercised 


Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

   b.   Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

There were no reports of torture.  The Provisional Constitution 
prohibits torture or degrading treatment.  Shari'a courts frequently 
impose flogging on Muslims found guilty of adultery, prostitution, and 
drug and 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 80 to 200 lashes.  Individuals convicted of drunkenness have been 
sentenced to 80 lashes.

During the year, two Muslims aged 16, who had been convicted of 
kidnaping and attempted sexual assault, were sentenced to
50 lashes each, while two other Muslim teenagers, convicted of deadly 
traffic violations, each received 30 lashes administered in public.

After several judicial reviews, a Filipina domestic worker, Sarah 
Balabagan, was sentenced in October to 1 year imprisonment and 100 
lashes to be followed by deportation on charges related to the killing 
of her employer.  See Section 6.e.  Authorities carried out the 
lashings, 20 each time, during the period January 30 to February 5, 
1996.  Reports indicated that Balabagan showed no visible signs of 

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 sentences have been carried out in a few cases.  For 
example, in July the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by a non-
Muslim convicted of public drunkenness and sentenced to receive 39 

No amputations were known to have been carried out.

In central prisons holding long-term inmates, cells may hold 8 to 10 
prisoners.  They are provided with food, medical care, and adequate 
sanitation facilities, but sleep on blankets on concrete floors.  The 
central prisons are not air-conditioned during the intense heat and 
humidity of the summer.  Prisoners normally may receive visitors up to 
three times each week, and may also make occasional telephone calls.

   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Provisional Constitution prohibits arrest, search, detention, or 
imprisonment except in accordance with the law.  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 detainees 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.  There is no 
formal system of bail, but the authorities may temporarily 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.

The Provisional Constitution prohibits exile, which is not practiced.

   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Provisional Constitution provides for the independence of the 
judiciary.  There is a dual system of Shari'a (Islamic) and civil 
(secular) courts.  The civil courts are generally 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.

The Shari'a courts are administered by each emirate, but are also 
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.  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.

There are no jury trials.  A single judge normally renders the verdict 
in each case, whether in Shari'a or civil courts.  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 UAE citizens as judges and prosecutors.

Each court system has an appeals 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.  Defendants are presumed innocent 
until proven guilty.  Non-Muslims 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.  During the year, the Federal Supreme Court rejected 
an appeal by a non-Muslim sentenced to lashing (see Section 1.c.).

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.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Provisional Constitution prohibits entry into homes without the 
owner's permission, except in accordance with the law.  Although the 
police may enter homes without a warrant and without demonstrating 
probable cause, an officer's actions in searching premises are subject 
to review, and he is subject to disciplinary action if he acts 
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 

Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Provisional Constitution provides for freedom of speech, 
most people, 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.  It 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.

Many of the local English and Arabic language newspapers are privately 
owned, but receive government subsidies.  In early 1995, the Government 
ordered the indefinite suspension of a Muslim, Arabic language weekly 
magazine, Al-Islah.  Foreign publications are routinely subjected to 
censorship before distribution.

All television and radio stations are government owned and conform to 
government reporting guidelines.  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, 
favorable to Israel, unduly critical of friendly countries, or critical 
of the Government or the ruling families.

In July an Iranian national acquitted in a slander case against the 
Sharjah government was later sentenced to death for heresy, because he 
claimed during the trial that he had been divinely ordained.  Although 
he has refused to appeal the death sentence, it has not been carried 

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

These freedoms are tightly restricted.  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, held in private homes.  There are no restrictions 
on such gatherings.  However, private associations must follow the 
Government's censorship guidelines if they publish any material.  
Unauthorized political organizations are prohibited.

   c.   Freedom of Religion

Islam is the official religion of all the emirates.  Citizens are 
predominantly Sunni Muslims, but Shi'a Muslims are also free to worship 
and maintain mosques.  In 1993 the Emirate of Dubai placed private 
mosques under the control of its Department of Islamic Affairs and 
Endowments.  This move gave the Government control over the appointment 
of preachers and the conduct of their work.  Throughout the emirates, 
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.  Major cities have 
Christian churches and Hindu and Sikh temples, some built on land 
donated by the ruling families.  Other religious communities (mostly 
expatriates residing in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) include Ismailis, Parsis, 
and Iranian Baha'is.  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.

   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 

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 without 
his permission.  All citizens have the right to return.  There is a 
small population of stateless residents, many of whom have lived in the 
UAE for more than one generation.  They are Bedouins or the descendants 
of Bedouins who are unable to prove that they are of UAE origin.

Citizens are not restricted in seeking or changing employment.  However, 
foreign nationals in specific occupations, primarily professional, may 
change employers without first leaving the country for 6 months.  This 
law is often not enforced.

The Government does not have any formal procedures for accepting 
refugees.  It may detain persons seeking refugee status, particularly 
non-Arabs, while they await resettlement in a third country.  There is 
no formal procedure for naturalization, although foreign women receive 
citizenship by marriage to a UAE citizen, and anyone may receive a 
passport by presidential fiat.

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 own emirates.  Decisions at the federal level are generally 
made by consensus of the sheikhs of the seven emirates and leading 

A federal consultative body, called the Federal National Council (FNC), 
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 

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 

Tradition rather than law has limited the social role of women.  Women 
are free to hold government positions, but there are few women in senior 
positions.  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.  However, in September the Emirate of Dubai 
announced the formation of a human rights section within its police 
force to monitor any allegations of human rights abuses.

A few informal public discussions of human rights have taken place in 
recent years, such as a seminar in December 1992 and an international 
symposium in late 1993.  These events, along with some press coverage of 
selected local human rights problems, have led to a small increase in 
public awareness of human rights.

Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Provisional 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 few reports of spousal abuse.  When reported, the local police 
authorities may take action to protect women from 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 UAE and foreign employers 
(see Section 6.e.).

Most women play a subordinate role in this family-centered society 
because of early marriages and traditional attitudes about women's 
activities.  As noted in Section 2.d., husbands may bar their wives and 
children from leaving the country, and a married woman may not accept 
employment without her husband's written consent.  Islamic law is 
applied in cases of divorce.  Mothers receive custody of their children 
under 7 years of age.  Older children live with their fathers unless 
judicial authorities decide otherwise.  Courts usually grant custody to 
the father regardless of the child's age in divorce cases in which the 
mother is a Muslim or a foreigner.  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 generally receive equal pay for equal work, but do 
not receive equal benefits, such as housing, and may face discrimination 
in promotion.  In June the UAE Cabinet provisionally extended paid 
maternity leave for citizen women in the private sector to 3 months at 
full pay from 45 days, and up to 1 year's leave at half pay and a second 
year's leave at quarter pay.

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.  
Opportunities for women have grown in government service, education, 
private business, and health services.  

According to UAE government figures, 16.3 percent of the country's 
workforce in 1995 was female.

Women are officially 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 started after 
the Gulf War.  The Dubai Police College recruits women, many of whom are 
deployed at airports, immigration offices, and women's prisons.  As of 
mid-1995, about 85 women had graduated from the college.

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 will 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.


The Government is committed to the welfare of children.  Children who 
are citizens receive free health care, free education, guaranteed 
housing, and other perquisites of citizenship.  A family may also be 
eligible to receive aid from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare 
for sons and daughters who are under the age of 18 or 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 which 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.

   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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 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 

   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law does not grant workers the right to engage in collective 
bargaining, which is not practiced.  Workers in the industrial and 
service sectors are normally employed under contracts that are subject 
to review by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.  The purpose of 
the review is to ensure that the pay will satisfy the employee's basic 
needs and secure 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 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 UAE under 
conditions approaching indenture.

   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Labor regulations prohibit employment of persons under age 15 and have 
special provisions for employing those aged 15 to 18.  The Department of 
Labor enforces the regulations.  Other regulations permit employers to 
engage only adult foreign workers.  In 1993 the Government prohibited 
the employment of children under the age of 15 as camel jockeys and of 
jockeys who do not weigh more than 45 kilograms.  The Camel Racing 
Association is responsible for enforcing these rules.  Otherwise, child 
labor is not permitted.

   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 which would afford a worker and family a minimal standard of 
living.  As noted in Section 6.b., the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry 
reviews labor contracts and does not approve any contract that 
stipulates a clearly unacceptable wage.

The standard workday and workweek are 8 hours a day, 6 days per week, 
but these standards are not strictly enforced.  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 45 degrees Celsius (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 1 year 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 uniformly 
observed in the housing camps 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 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.

During the year, several highly publicized cases involving Filipina 
maids highlighted the conditions of domestic workers of all 
nationalities.  In one case, 16-year-old Sarah Balabagan was initially 
sentenced to 7 years in prison for killing her employer, who she claimed 
had raped her.  After a retrial, an Islamic court sentenced Balabagan to 
death; however, following an intervention by the UAE President, the 
victim's family agreed to accept monetary compensation as permitted 
under Islamic law.  An appeals court subsequently overturned the death 
sentence and sentenced Balabagan to 1 year imprisonment and 100 lashes 
to be followed by deportation.  The court also required her to pay 
approximately $41,000 in monetary compensation to the family of her 
former employer.


[end of document]


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