Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines the report of the United Arab Emirates

GENEVA (8 August 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighteenth to twenty-first periodic report of the United Arab Emirates on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
 
Introducing the report, Abdulrahim Y. Alawadi, Adviser of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, noted that the country endeavoured to continue to strengthen its legislative and legal systems, and to develop its institutional structure in order to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.  The federal decree law No. 2 of 2015 on combatting discrimination and hatred criminalized acts related to blasphemy and defamation of any religion, provided for the fight against all forms of discrimination, and rejected hate speech made by any means or forms of expression.  The Government had adopted the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women 2015-2021, as well as the Gender Balance Council to ensure that Emirati women continued to play a leading role in all employment spheres.  It had also adopted a new policy to attract foreign workers by enhancing recruitment transparency and ensuring that contract conditions were known from the outset.  The policy aimed to protect workers’ rights, combat illegal practices of passport confiscation, and monitor employers’ compliance with the law.    
 
In the ensuing discussion Experts commended the State party’s well-organized report.

They asked for disaggregated socio-economic data on non-nationals and their remittances.  Notwithstanding incremental improvements in anti-discrimination laws, Experts raised concern that some of the fundamental rights mentioned in the Constitution may not apply to non-citizens in the country.  They inquired about the penalties for discrimination in employment, respect for the limitation of working hours, adequate housing for workers, the adoption of the draft law on domestic workers, the transfer of nationality of Emirati women married to foreigners to their children, the situation of stateless persons (the Bidoons), the salary gap among foreign workers, the situation of manual workers, the Government’s efforts within the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent, the situation of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, criminal jurisdiction of courts, domestication of the Convention, the role of women in society and the implementation of the National Empowerment Strategy for Women 2015-2021, guarantees for a fair trial, access to justice without discrimination, and about the prison population.
 
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Alawadi said that the delegation appreciated the exchange of views with the Committee Experts because it provided an opportunity to look forward to the future.  The Government would try to translate the Committee’s observations into action.  It wished to strengthen the Convention and cooperation with the Committee, and it would not spare any effort in that regard. 
 
In his concluding remarks, Anwar Kemal, Country Rapporteur for the United Arab Emirates, thanked the delegation for a fruitful and interactive dialogue, adding that he had great hopes for the implementation of the decree law No. 2 of 2015.  There were incremental improvements in the United Arab Emirates, notwithstanding challenges. 
 
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for a lively and interesting engagement with the Committee.  She reminded that the task of the Committee was to support and challenge States parties in the implementation of the Convention, and she underlined the importance of civil society participation in that process. 
 
The delegation of the United Arab Emirates included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Delegation, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, the Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 
 
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to start considering the combined twenty-third and twenty-fourth periodic report of Ecuador (CERD/C/ECU/23-24).
 
Report
 
The combined eighteenth to twenty-first periodic report of the United Arab Emirates can be read here: CERD/C/ARE/18-21.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
ABDULRAHIM Y. ALAWADI, Adviser of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said that the report was a joint effort by the various stakeholders in the country, including local bodies and civil society organizations.  Since its twelfth to seventeenth periodic reports, which had been reviewed in August 2009, the United Arab Emirates had endeavoured to continue to strengthen its legislative and legal systems, and to develop its institutional structure in order to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and combat that serious scourge.  Respect for and the protection of human rights was enshrined in the country’s Constitution and domestic legislation, which emphasized the safety of every individual and the guarantee of equality and social justice.  The Government had scrupulously adhered to the provisions of the Convention since it acceded to it in 1974.  The President of the United Arab Emirates had issued a federal decree law No. 2 in 2015 on combatting discrimination and hatred, which criminalized acts related to blasphemy and defamation of any religion, provided for the fight against all forms of discrimination, and rejected hate speech made by any means or forms of expression.  The law prohibited insulting the divine entity, any religion, any prophet, any messenger, any holy books or places of worship, as well as discrimination among individuals or groups based on religion, creed, doctrine, sect, caste, colour or ethnic origin.  The law also criminalized any speech or conduct which might incite sedition, prejudicial action or discrimination among individuals or groups.  In 2015, the Government has also passed an amendment to the federal law No. 51 of 2006 to strengthen provisions on human trafficking crimes. 
 
In terms of social justice, the judiciary was the basis of social justice in the society.  The Constitution and law guaranteed the right of recourse to the courts and the right to complain without discrimination to all persons in the country.  The United Arab Emirates topped the Middle East and North Africa region in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for the third year in a row, and it ranked 33 out of 113 countries worldwide.  Women were at the forefront of the Government and private sector, accounting for 43 per cent of the workforce and 66 per cent of the Government sector, including 30 per cent in senior decision-making positions.  The Government had adopted the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women 2015-2021, as well as the Gender Balance Council to ensure that Emirati women continued to play a leading role in all employment spheres and to contribute to the status of the United Arab Emirates locally and internationally.  The Council aimed at reducing the gender gap in all sectors and to achieve gender balance in decision-making centres.  Out of 29 ministers in the Government, eight were women.  The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (formerly known as the Ministry of Labour) had adopted a new policy to attract foreign workers, aimed at achieving recruitment transparency and ensuring that contract conditions were obtained before departure from the country of origin.  The new policy also aimed at entrenching the principle of the voluntary nature of labour to protect workers’ rights, combatting illegal practices of passport confiscation, monitoring compliance with the implementation of legislation through the development of an integrated electronic system for follow-up, and continuing the strategy to make workers aware of their rights.   
 
The United Arab Emirates stressed its commitment to address all forms of human trafficking.  Since its establishment in 2008, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking had played a prominent and effective role in countering the phenomenon through regular meetings of the members of the Committee representing various Government bodies, law enforcement institutions and civil society.  In 2012, the National Committee had adopted a national strategy based on the following main pillars: prevention, judicial prosecution, protection of victims, and the promotion of international cooperation.  The Government had made every effort to ensure the foundations of social cohesion, most important of which was the guarantee of religious freedom.  It had facilitated the establishment of places of worship for various religions and creeds, granting them free land to build places of worship.  There were dozens of Christian churches and Hindu temples in the country.  The Government had stepped up its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination through a number of activities, programmes, initiatives and best practices in the field.  The National Tolerance Programmes was based on seven key pillars: Islam, the Constitution, Zayed’s legacy and ethics of the United Arab Emirates, international conventions, archaeology and history, humanity, and common values.  
 
As part of its determination to strengthen its cooperation with the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms, the Government had received the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance from 4 to 8 October 2009.  In April 2012, it had also received the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.  The United Arab Emirates annually supported United Nations specialised funds, and as a member of the Human Rights Council, it had supported all relevant Council resolutions, Mr. Alawadi concluded.   
 
Questions by the Rapporteur
 
ANWAR KEMAL, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Arab Emirates, noted that the United Arab Emirates’ periodic report was well organized, containing useful information about the progress made by the country.   He reminded that more than 90 per cent of the population was made up of migrant workers from numerous nationalities.  What was the estimate of the current population? 
 
What was the impact of the State party’s measures to curb the practices of unscrupulous private contractors?  Migrant workers remitted some 29 billion US dollars to their home countries from the United Arab Emirates.  Did that figure include the amounts sent via the hawala system?
 
The State party could consider providing the Committee with disaggregated socio-economic data regarding non-nationals based on nationality and broad geographical regions.  There was some concern that some of the fundamental rights mentioned in the Constitution may not apply to non-citizens. 
 
Mr. Kemal observed the lack of national laws fulfilling the requirements of article 4 of the Convention requiring States parties to penalize those who spread ideas based on racial superiority and hatred.  Could the State party provide detailed information on the implementation and impact of the decree law No. 2 of 2015, including examples of cases in national courts under that decree? 
 
As for penalties for discrimination in employment, did their scope cover only the Government sector employees, or also the private sector?  How many cases of passport withdrawal had been registered and processed in recent years?  With respect to the limitation of working hours, how did the Government ensure that violations of the law did not take place? 
 
Mr. Kemal also raised the issue of adequate housing for workers.  He suggested that the State party ensure that Emirati women married to foreigners could transfer their nationality to their children.  What was the situation of thousands of stateless persons (the Bidoons) in the State party? 
 
Workers from North America and Europe received significantly higher salaries than workers from Asia and Africa.  That salary gap created some misgivings.   Manual workers were not always treated with due respect and the Government was encouraged to ensure zero tolerance for such behaviour.  Mr. Kemal proposed the establishment of an end-of-service pension for workers after a service of 10 to 15 years. 
 
Mr. Kemal also proposed that the State party establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles, as well as a proactive approach in protecting manual workers and female employees against discrimination.
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, encouraged the delegation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on individual communications.  She also reminded that there was no core document on the United Arab Emirates. 
 
Questions by the Experts
 
Experts raised the issue of domestic workers, a vulnerable group in the United Arab Emirates, some of whom faced multiple forms of discrimination.  Not much was mentioned about them in the State party’s report.  Had the State party ratified other international conventions relating to the rights of domestic workers, such as Convention 189 of the International Labour Organization?   Were domestic workers given the same protection as others in the State party?  What were the enforcement mechanisms for the abuse of the kafala system?
 
Were there any studies on the number and situation of non-nationals (the Bidoons)?  How could they receive Emirati nationality?  The Bidoons had no other place of residence, but they had very limited access to healthcare and education.   Immigrants who were Shia Muslims experienced discrimination.  What measures had been taken within the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent?  
 
In light of rising global temperatures, indigenous peoples and people of African descent had a strategic role to play in environmental sustainability.   An Expert encouraged the United Arab Emirates to contribute to the people of African descent as part of its international cooperation policy.  Did the State party carry out periodic surveys on the views of various nationalities in the country regarding racial discrimination?       
 
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-up Rapporteur, reminded the delegation to provide follow-up information on the Committee’s previous concluding observations, namely on the strengthening of protection of all foreign workers and their rights, and improving the situation of the Bidoon.  The Committee attached great importance to follow-up, and it expected the interim report on time. 
 
Did local courts have criminal jurisdiction?  A difference was made between persons and citizens.  When it came to equality before the law, there should be no such distinction.  Prisoners’ complaints were submitted to the public prosecutor, which lacked guarantees of independence and impartiality.     
 
Experts welcomed the decree law No. 2 of 2015 that aimed to combat racial discrimination.  However, they noted that the law did not mention maximum sentences.  The imposition of the sentence for racial discrimination should be proportional.  Experts also found problematic a legal provision which stipulated that women were not obliged to provide for their children.   
 
As for the domestication of the Convention, which instruments had primacy in the United Arab Emirates?  How did every Emirate comply with ratified international conventions?  Did local courts implement international instruments and what was the number of cases where the Convention provisions were implemented?  One Expert observed that the laws of the United Arab Emirates were more directed towards religious discrimination, reminding that the Committee had previously recommended strict observance with the Convention provisions. 
 
What was the role of women in society?  Could women access the justice system on an equal footing with men?  Were they represented in electoral posts?  Did the new electronic system for employment opportunities also provide terms and conditions of contracts?  Did the State party carry out inspections of work places?  Were wages for equal work equal for nationals and non-nationals? 
 
The laws and decrees were designed to protect the rights of migrant workers.  However, the latest one authorized in January 2016 did not include female domestic workers.  Why was that?  How was the “rest period” interpreted and how was its implementation monitored?  What measures had been adopted to protect foreign workers who spoke neither Arabic nor English?
 
Experts commended the State party for having developed a legal framework for education, particularly the focus on women and girls.  Was education compulsory and what was the schooling age?  How was social harmony achieved through education in a practical way?  There was a lack of disaggregated data on the enrolment of girls and boys in the secondary level of education.  Who conducted training for public and civil servants to measure the impact of education?
 
An Expert observed the disproportion of nationals and non-nationals in the country, as well as the disproportion of men among the foreign workforce.  Was family reunion allowed?  Was there any unemployment among non-nationals and were they entitled to unemployment benefits? 
 
Were any death sentences handed down?    
 
The periodic report described the role of civil society in promoting human rights values.  How did the State party insert the participation of civil society in the drafting of the report?
 
As for access to justice without discrimination, had courts received any complaints of racial discrimination?  What was the make-up of the prison population?  Were there any detention centres for undocumented persons and how many people were detained among migrant workers, women and those who were victims of human trafficking? 
 
Was there a separation of powers between police and labour inspectorates when dealing with irregular migrant workers? 
      
Replies by the Delegation
 
ABDULRAHIM Y. ALAWADI, Adviser of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, thanked the country rapporteur and Experts for having made a number of useful questions and comments.  Many of the questions seemed to be outside the scope of the Convention, such as the question on the death penalty. 
 
As for the country’s legal system and the implementation of international treaties, Mr. Alawadi clarified that the United Arab Emirates was a federal State.  No law should be at odds with the Constitution.  When a federal law was enacted, all local courts were bound to respect it.  Any adopted international treaty was enacted by a decree and all Emirates were required to respect it.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was not directly applicable in the country, but it called for the enactment of domestic laws to combat racial discrimination.   In light of religious extremism, the Government had to adopt more stringent laws in some cases.       
 
The delegation said that women had progressed considerably in terms of political participation, making up 22.2 per cent of Parliament members.  There was also an increase of women in leadership positions, amounting to 15 per cent in management boards.  Women were present in all spheres of life, including the judiciary, military and diplomacy.  The creation of the Gender Balance Council was a pioneering achievement to empower women in all sectors of life.  
 
As for the decree law No. 2 of 2015 on combatting hate speech and discrimination, the United Arab Emirates had been striving to develop laws to tackle racial discrimination, amending many of its laws to bring them into line with the country’s international obligations.  The decree law defined discrimination as any type of differentiation of individuals based on race, colour, religion, and ethnic origin.  The Government aimed at protecting various religions and creeds and human rights of ethnicities, as well as to ensure public order.  The Criminal Code stipulated a prison sentence of at least five years for acts of discrimination and hate speech, as well as a monetary fine.  Judges could push that sentence up to 15 years.  Aggravating circumstances were applied when the crime was perpetrated by a State official.  The law, thus, was in line with the terms of the Convention. 
 
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation had established an ad hoc department to find solutions for all labour disputes, raise awareness and inspections in all sectors of domestic labour, and to manage all work permits.  That reflected the Government’s determination to bring all laws in line with international standards.  A federal law on domestic workers would enter into force after the signature by the President.  The law guaranteed the right to wages, weekly and daily rest periods, in addition to annual leave.  Domestic workers were provided with medical insurance and a return ticket to the country of origin, both paid by the employer.  The law guaranteed the right of domestic workers to keep their identity papers.  As for the complaint procedure, any dispute was to be handled by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, and should be settled within one week.  If it was not settled during that period, it would be transferred to the courts.  A relevant recruitment agency would be inaugurated by the end of 2017. 
 
The Labour Law guaranteed the rights of workers in general, namely the right to decent living, to file complaints, and the right to free movement and to terminate the work contract.  The contract had to be written in Arabic, English and in the language of the worker.  Upon arrival in the United Arab Emirates, the worker signed the contract in a labour specialized office.  The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation verified work contracts and determined whether there was a need for additional clauses.  As for the wage protection system, new policies had been adopted to deal with employers who did not pay salaries in a timely manner.  Regarding the monitoring of enterprises, there were inspection visits and a number of companies had been fined for inadequate working hours and labour contract conditions, and withholding of workers’ identity papers.  The overtime was also monitored through labour inspections and compensation had been provided to more than 50,000 workers.  The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation had a number of kiosks for receiving workers’ complaints.  In 2014, the Government had issued a decision to implement adequate housing conditions for workers.   
 
According to the latest statistics, the population of the United Arab Emirates had reached 9.1 million.  As for the granting of Emirati nationality to children of Emirati women married to foreigners, in general children received nationality through their father.  Women married to foreigners could transfer their Emirati nationality once children reached the age of 18.  Foreign women married to Emirati men could apply for Emirati nationality after three years of residence.  Regarding stateless persons (the Bidoons), the Government required them to settle their situation and it granted them a grace period to contact the relevant ministries.  They were not subject to any penalties during the grace period.  Many had regularized their situation and it was discovered that many had hidden their passports and identity papers in order to gain Emirati nationality.  During the grace period, they enjoyed all citizens’ rights.  
 
Many training programmes existed for the police on human rights, treatment of prisoners, code of conduct and ethics.  The Ministry of Interior had undertaken many steps to spread the culture of human rights and to combat human trafficking.  The training courses were compulsory for all Government employees.  There was a positive impact in terms of the feeling of safety and security among the population.  Many communities and non-nationals felt safe in the country.  There were channels for resorting to courts and they were accessible to all. 
 
The Constitution guaranteed the right to education to all nationals and non-nationals without any discrimination.  Education was compulsory at the primary level and free of charge at all levels.  Education grants were provided to high achievers, and available educational options responded to the needs of the country’s various communities.  The Teachers’ Tolerance Charter adopted in 2016 aimed to ensure that tolerance was respected at all levels of education.   The National Programme on Tolerance had existed for one year and the Government was currently assessing its impact.  It also addressed tolerance towards foreign workers and it aimed at raising awareness about tolerance. 
 
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
 
ANWAR KEMAL, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Arab Emirates, asked about the effectiveness of labour inspections.  Were they sufficient to cover such a vast population of migrant workers?  There should be more model villages with accommodation for migrant workers.  Some of the provided accommodation was below standard and certain nationalities claimed that their accommodation was poorer because they were manual workers.     
 
Mr. Kemal noted that establishing a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles would be another achievement by the Government.  He also inquired about the application of the decree law No. 2 of 2015.
 
Mr. Kemal noted that employees in the private sector were afraid to come forward and complain about discrimination.  There was some ambiguity about the scope of the decree law No. 2 of 2015, namely that it applied only to nationals.  Was there a labour ombudsman in the United Arab Emirates?       
 
There was a difference between the treatment of national and migrant workers.   Most cases of racial discrimination were found among migrant workers.  Was there a definite timeline for the adoption of the draft law on domestic workers?   Since domestic workers operated mainly in the private sphere, how would the State implement monitoring of the respect for their rights? 
 
Which women had made progress in terms of representation in the State party?  What was the update on the Government’s efforts within the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent?
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked whether the Government intended to set up a national human rights institution.  What were the standards for adequate accommodation for migrant workers? 
 
How were everyday legal matters resolved in the State party for non-Muslims or non-Sunni Muslims?  Which women were included in the national strategy on women? 
 
What was the difference between a crime and a misdemeanour, and what were the relevant sentences?  How was the principle of equality before the law applied?  What was the complaint system for prisoners?  Was the accused party informed about the charges and sentences, as well as of aggravating circumstances?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
ABDULRAHIM Y. ALAWADI, Adviser of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, clarified that the Government had committed to consider the establishment of a national human rights institution as part of its Universal Periodic Review.  The Government aimed for the A status for the national human rights institution according to the Paris Principles.  
 
As for labour inspections, Mr. Alawadi explained that the number of labour inspectors had increased.  The Government had introduced a smart inspection system, an electronic system that allowed detection of weaknesses.  Inspections led to the discovery of many breaches of law and fines were imposed on companies that did not respect the law. 
 
With respect to the accommodation for migrant workers, the Government had a list of model villages and accommodation standards pertaining to the surface area, occupancy rate, food and hygiene.  The model villages were also subject to inspections.  The State party encouraged many companies to build their own model villages, respecting the relevant standards. 
 
In addition to the decree law No. 2 of 2015, the Law on Cyber Crime sanctioned hate speech made online and a number of cases had been recorded in relation to that law.         
 
There were no migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates, but contracted workers.  When the terms of their contracts were not respected, the Government took appropriate measures.  Domestic workers were subject to the same laws.  It could not be said that they did not enjoy legal protection prior to the adoption of the draft law on domestic workers.  No domestic worker could work in the country unless they signed a standard work contract.   The timeline for the adoption of the draft law depended on the promulgation by all seven emirates of the country. 
 
The Government took into account the need to ratify all international conventions in order to protect human rights.  The United Arab Emirates ratified conventions only when it was ready to align domestic laws with them. 
 
Mr. Alawadi explained that the judiciary in the country took into account the implementation of Islamic law, as well as of laws that applied to various communities.  There were specialized courts for the Shia Muslims.  Tolerance prevailed in the country and everyone was free to practice their religion and creed.     
 
The delegation clarified that the National Empowerment Strategy for Women 2015-2021 did not discriminate between nationals and non-nationals.  Services were provided to all those residing in the country on an equal footing.  All women were equal under the Strategy. 
 
The Ministry of Labour classified companies according to their compliance with the law, which had had a positive impact on the standard of services provided to workers.
 
Prisoners could complain through the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was not linked with the executive power.  Guarantees for a fair trial were publicly available.  A misdemeanour was punished by detention or a certain amount of fine.  Any person accused of a crime had the right to legal counsel.  If tried in absentia, the accused had to be tried once again in order to be aware of the charges.  Judges adapted the penalty according to extenuating or mitigating circumstances.            
 
Mr. Alawadi explained that prisoners were separated according to the seriousness of the crime and according to the processing stage of their cases.  The decree law No. 2 of 2015 applied to everyone in the country, as long as the person was on the territory of the United Arab Emirates. 
 
The Government supported all international initiatives, including the International Decade for Persons of African Descent.      
 
Concluding Remarks
 
ANWAR KEMAL, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Arab Emirates, said that there was discrimination in the private sector and that the State could not control everything.  He added that he had great hopes for the implementation of the decree law No. 2 of 2015.  There were incremental improvements in the United Arab Emirates, notwithstanding challenges.  Mr. Kemal thanked the delegation for a fruitful and interactive dialogue. 
 
ABDULRAHIM Y. ALAWADI, Adviser of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said that the delegation appreciated the exchange of views with Committee Experts because it provided an opportunity to look forward to the future.  The Government would try to translate the Committee’s observations into action.  The Government wished to strengthen the Convention and cooperation with the Committee, and it would not spare any effort in that regard.  It was unacceptable to have employers who did not pay salaries to their employees.  
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for a lively and interesting engagement with the Committee.   She reminded that the task of the Committee was to support and challenge States parties in the implementation of the Convention, and she underlined the importance of civil society participation in that process.

__________

For use of the information media; not an official record