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UN human rights expert urges the United Arab Emirates to strengthen the independence of its judiciary 

GENEVA (6 February 2014) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul called* on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to address the challenges that still affect the justice system, in order to strengthen the public’s confidence in the rule of law, and improving the enforcement of peoples’ human rights.

Ms. Knaul’s appeal comes at the end of her first information-gathering visit to the UAE as the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the independence of judges and lawyers worldwide.

“The UAE have come a long way since their independence in 1971,” the expert said. “While the achievements should be acknowledged and commended, the country must address the gaps and shortcomings in its legal and judicial systems which may undermine peoples’ exercise of their human rights and present obstacles to the country’s further economic growth and stable political development.”

Ms. Knaul was pleased to hear that a new bill is being prepared that would increase the independence of the judiciary. “I am concerned that the judicial system remains under the de facto control of the executive branch of government which represents an important challenge to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary”, she said. The expert urged the authorities to adopt legislation to separate the functions of the Ministry of Justice from those of the judiciary, as well as to ensure the institutional independence of the office of the prosecutor.

“In the criminal justice system, the concentration of power in the hands of the prosecution, without judicial oversight, is a matter of serious concern as it encroaches on the independence of the judiciary and lawyers, and may unfairly favour the prosecution over the defense,” she warned.

“I was alarmed by a number of credible reports stating that persons arrested for allegedly violating the security of the state are subject to numerous procedural violations. Some are kept in secret detention facilities and held incommunicado, or even in solitary confinement, for extended periods of time, and under these circumstances many are subject to torture and/or ill treatment”, said the expert.

“No serious independent investigation of such allegations of torture has taken place, even when complaints were brought to prosecutors or judges,” she added. “Judges and prosecutors have an obligation to uphold human rights; for this reason I call upon the UAE to establish an independent committee to investigate claims of ill-treatment and torture of persons in detention.”

During her nine-day visit, the UN independent expert travelled to the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, where she met with representatives from the Government and the legislative branch, as well as judges, prosecutors, lawyers. She also met with representatives from civil society, academia, UN agencies and the diplomatic community.

Based on the information collected during the visit, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2015.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14223&LangID=E

Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.
Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – United Arab Emirates: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/AEIndex.aspx 

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/IndependenceJudiciary.aspx

For additional information and media requests, please contact Amanda Flores (+41 22 917 91 86 / aflores@ohchr.org) or write to srindependencejl@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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