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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


Third session meeting highlights

4 December 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by the United Arab Emirates this morning, during which 57 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Burundi following the review of the country on Tuesday, 3 December.

Presenting the national report of the United Arab Emirates was ANWAR MOHAMMAD GARGASH, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who noted that in preparation of the report the Government of the UAE formed a committee that brought together representatives of the government and civil society. Amid its rapid modernization process, the UAE has had a challenging, but progressive track record on human rights issues. The United Arab Emirates was keen on tackling human rights issues head on given its own cultural heritage and religious values which enshrined justice, equality and tolerance. The population had a high standard of living and was now reaping the benefits of investment in the education, health and social services. The UAE was committed to raising the age for compulsory education to 18 years. In other fields, rapid advancement in healthcare facilities drastically reduced infant mortality to about eight per thousand births in 2008 and raised the average life expectancy age to 77 years for men and 80 years for women. The Government strategy focused on ensuring country-wide sustainable development, in line with the U.N efforts to promote human development. Initiatives to realize this objective included enacting legislation and special regulations for the assimilation of members of society with special needs and other vulnerable groups into the development process. The UAE was also committed to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On the issue of the protection of children, the UAE had taken substantive measures to ensure that their rights were fulfilled and that protections and safeguards were in place, he added. The UAE was also committed to accession to the protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In terms of political participation, the UAE had taken major steps during the last few years to modernize and institutionalize the government structure in order to make it more responsive to the needs of its growing population and to widen the avenues of participation. The tradition of direct political participation, popularly known as majlis or council, which has existed for centuries, allowed open consultative meetings between the leadership and the people. Contrary to some misconceptions and stereotypes that women were a restricted group in UAE society, women were at the forefront in both the government and private sector today. Their prominent role within society had evolved as a norm and not an exception. The UAE was committed to empowering women and utilizing their skills in the growing economy. Currently, nearly half the students registered in the 1259 schools across the UAE were girls; about 75% of student in the universities were women, and UAE women accounted for nearly 30% of the national workforce. Simultaneously, the Government’s holistic approach to women’s issues had resulted in a number of social support initiatives across the country.

A large part of the UAE’s population was made up of culturally-diverse foreign workers attracted by the positive employment opportunities and tolerant social environment in the country, he added. The UAE had developed into an open, modern Arab and Islamic model for the region with over 200 nationalities among its workforce. More than 3.1 million foreign workers were contractually employed in the UAE and the Government was fully committed to creating the necessary mechanisms and safeguards to protect all who resided and worked in the UAE, and was working on several fronts to address the challenges. The Government was working on a new law to protect domestic workers, which will afford them far greater protection and assurances. The new initiative will particularly benefit women. In order to institutionalize the fights against human trafficking and protect its victims, especially women, the government enacted Federal Law 51 in 2006. The law called for the string punitive measures, including maximum penalties of life imprisonment and covered all forms of human trafficking. The Government was also committed to a national media campaign to enhance public awareness about the crime of human trafficking, deter criminals and highlight the existence of help-lines and shelters for victims. The Minister added that the UAE was also committed to organizing workshops, in cooperation with specialized international organizations, focusing on spreading human rights’ principles in line with the international conventions ratified by the State. The UAE was also in the process of studying the establishment of a national human rights commission in the country, in line with the Paris Principles.

The Minister also responded to a series of questions submitted in writing beforehand. On the death penalty, he noted that capital punishment existed only as a preventive measure and the death penalty could only be carried out if the sentence was ratified by the Criminal Court and by the President of the country. The family members of the victim could also grant a pardon. As to the new press law, the UAE was working to revise its press law of 1980 and was working closely with journalists in that regard. On another question, the country did not tolerate any form of discrimination and was pursuing ways of studying such acts as comprehensively as possible. The laws did not discriminate against stateless persons; these people all received identity cars and were afforded the same level of human rights protection as other citizens. On another question, the UAE guaranteed freedom to religious worship provided it did not violate public morale.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the efforts to uphold and respect the rights of women and children; progress made in enhancing the role of women in public life; steps undertaken to combat human trafficking, including setting up a shelter for victims; efforts to compensate children who had worked as camel jockeys; the steps taken to reform the juvenile justice system; the progress achieved in the areas of education and labour; the efforts taken to protect the rights of migrant workers; the State’s comprehensive development strategy; strides made in the area of economic development; the proposal to establish a National Human Rights Commission in compliance with the Paris Principles; and the UAE’s cooperation with civil society in the Universal Periodic Review process.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to plans to introduce the universal principles of human rights into its school education programmes; the progress made in the area of human trafficking following the enactment of the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2006; policies with regard to protection of children, in general, and the intention of the State to enact legislation to prevent the hiring of children as camel jockeys; efforts taken to continue to promote the equality between men and women; whether the State was considering raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility; and the State’s intention to enact a new press law.

Several delegations posed questions concerning migrant workers. These pertained to the progress made on the Pilot Project launched in January 2008 through the Abu Dhabi Declaration to foster cooperation in temporary labour management with some countries in the region; efforts to protect migrant workers’ wages and policies being pursued with regard to social protection measures for migrant workers, in general, including the provision of health care and adequate housing; the mechanisms used for dispute resolution and how efficient they have been to safeguard the rights of foreign workers; how the State assessed the impact of the sponsorship system dealing with migrant workers and measures taken to protect the workers from resulting dependence; and the reason for excluding migrant domestic workers from the existing labour legislation.

Other issues raised covered the plans being considered for improving the situation in remote regions in the country and the plans of the Government to improve the infrastructure in these regions; efforts undertaken to further ensure the rights of the elderly and disabled persons; information on the State’s health care policies and programmes; measures to safeguard the economic and social rights of people in the UAE to protect them from the fallout of the international economic crisis; whether the Government was engaged in active preparation to accede to the ICCPR; efforts to ensure the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons when implementing its anti-terrorism policies; and plans to involve civil society in the follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To pursue efforts to amend the press law; to take measures to limit restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press; to continue efforts in respect of the rights of assembly; to ensure that the decree issued by His Highness Shaykh al-Maktoum that no journalist shall receive a prison sentence was secured through the enactment of a modernized press and publications law; to continue its recent move of opening up websites with a view to bringing the regulation of Internet use in accordance with international law; to uphold the freedom of expression of NGOs by amending the laws limiting it and repealing punitive and administrative sanctions in that regard; and that the recently proposed amendment to the Press and Publication Law be revised to reflect article 19 of the ICCPR.

A number of recommendations made concerned the rights of migrant workers. These included: to strengthen labour laws and improve working and living conditions for migrant workers; to ensure that the new labour law be extended to cover all groups, including domestic employees and farm workers; to study the possibility of assigning a law to deal specifically with domestic workers aimed at protecting them from abuse by their employers; to take further steps to improve the situation for migrant workers and domestic staff; and to guarantee access to civil, criminal and labour courts for all migrant workers.

Additional recommendations included: To continue strengthening the rights of women and further advancement and development of women’s rights within the international dimension; to further consider how far modifications to the national laws on citizenship could be introduced so that female citizens married to non-citizens could pass on their nationality to their children in the same way as male citizens married to non-citizens; to implement article 2(a) of CEDAW by prohibiting discrimination between men and women in its national Constitution to ensure the practical realization of the principle of gender equality; to put in place effective institutional support for victims of domestic violence; to sanction marital rape through legislation; to promote national legislation to protect the rights of children; and to consider legislative changes in order to repeal the punishment of flogging.

Other recommendations were: To invite the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children; to sign and ratify the optional protocol on transnational organized crime; for the UAE to share its best practices with other counties in establishing national legislation and mechanisms, and pursuing international cooperation to curb human trafficking; to establish a workshop in the region between developed and developing counties in order to exchange views on education; to take further steps to eliminate racial discrimination and to promotion and protection freedom of religion and belief; to consider aligning its legislation with the provisions of Article 18 of the ICCPR; and to consider additional policy measures in order to promote tolerance and non-discrimination in including on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Another group of recommendations included: To consider amending its legislation on the death penalty in order to restrict its scope and adjust it to international standards; to put in place a moratorium on the death penalty; to consider ratifying the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol; to consider acceding to the ICCPR and the ICESCR; to continue to keep in mind the cultural values of the people of the UAE when implementing its human rights polices; to continue to give importance to the economic and social development of the country including in the remote areas; to consider establishing an independent national human rights institution which could advise the Government and receive and investigate complaints by the public; to ratify the main international human rights instruments which they have yet to ratify; to consider extending an invitation to the Special Procedures; and to establish a standing forum to facilitate a dialogue between government and civil society in the follow-up process to the Universal Periodic Review.

Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Djibouti, India, Indonesia, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Mexico, Switzerland, Jordan, Chile, the Philippines, Malaysia, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Slovenia, Japan, China, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Senegal and the Republic of Korea.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Venezuela, Singapore, Kuwait, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Oman, Yemen, Bhutan, Palestine, Lebanon, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Syrian Arab Republic, Algeria, Finland, Libya, Sweden, Maldives, Morocco, Norway, Albania, Turkey, Spain, Afghanistan, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Australia and Latvia.

The 11-person delegation of the United Arab Emirates consisted of representatives of the Ministry of State for Foreign Affairs, the Federal National Council, the Ministry of State for Federal National Council Affairs, the Office of the Under-Secretary Assistant for Legal, Information and Studies Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Abu Dhabi Police Headquarters and the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the UN Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of the United Arab Emirates are Indonesia, Argentina and Cameroon.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the United Arab Emirates can be found here.

Adoption of report on Burundi: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Burundi are Mauritius, India and Cuba. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika S.B.C SERVANSING (Mauritius), while noting that 41 delegations took the floor in the course of the interactive dialogue on the review of Burundi, said the troika was of the view the draft report was an accurate reflection of that discussion. The Rapporteur then read out a number of oral amendments to the report. Representing the State under review, IMMACULÉE NAHAYO, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, said the recommendations as presented by members of the troika were acceptable to Burundi.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, 9 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Israel after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Luxembourg.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp  

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