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United Arab Emirates: UN human rights experts call for urgent reforms of degrading conditions of detention

GENEVA (17 March 2020) – UN human rights experts* have urged the Emirati authorities to investigate and reform detention conditions that amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

"The UAE has the responsibility to protect the rights of individuals deprived of their liberty, by ensuring that conditions of detention respect their dignity and mental integrity," said the experts.

The urgent call follows recent allegations that Ms Maryam Suliman Al-Balushi, attempted suicide due to degrading conditions in the Al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi. Ms Al-Balushi, who was accused of "financing terrorism" because of her donation to a Syrian family, was tried and convicted using evidence obtained under torture in 2016 and has since been serving her sentence.

In an official communication to the UAE authorities, the UN human rights experts expressed deep concern at the alleged torture and ill treatment of Ms Al-Balushi, as well as Ms Amina Ahmed Saeed Al-Alabdouli and Ms Alia Abdulnour, resulting in their health deteriorating due to the conditions of detention and lack of appropriate medical treatment.

"Ms Al-Balushi has also been subjected to reprisals following the official communication we sent to the UAE authorities requesting information about the current physical and mental health status of the three women, and inquiring why she had not been released on health grounds, based on the critical nature of her medical condition," they said.

"While in detention, Ms Al-Balushi has been subject to inhuman conditions including having surveillance cameras inside her bathroom and being held in solitary confinement on multiple occasions for extended periods, most recently since mid-February."

The experts recalled that the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee have consistently found that conditions of detention can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

"Prolonged incommunicado detention can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment," they warned.

"The UAE authorities have failed to take the necessary safeguards concerning the life, security and dignity of persons deprived of their liberty," the experts said. "Despite Ms Al-Balushi protests through hunger-strikes of her condition of detention, her most recent attempt on her life is a demonstration to her pain and suffering.

"Improvements in conditions of detention should not be dependent on an individual being driven to attempt to take their own life," they stressed.

The UN human rights experts called on the Emirati government to "urgently undertake a prompt and impartial investigation in response to the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment of Ms Al-Alabdouli, Al-Balushi and Ms Abdulnour".


Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

UN Human Rights, Country Page – United Arab Emirates

For more information and media requests, please contact: Khota Aleer (+41 22 917 9194 / kaleer@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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