Emirates at the UPR in Geneva: two sides of the same medal?

January 23, 2018

Sometimes it hard t believe that media have observed the same meeting. Here the case of the Emirates (UAE) which was the subject of a UPR session on 22 January 2018. The Middle East Eye says that “At UN meeting, rights groups slam UAE for arbitrary detention“, while The National sees that “UAE strategy will advance human rights in Middle East, Gargash tells UN council”.

Portrait of UAE founder Zayd Bin Sultan Nahyan at UAE’s culture exhibition at the Palace of Nations, Geneva (MEE/Amandla Thomas-Johnson)
Amandla Thomas-Johnson's picture Amandla Thomas-Johnson reports that Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash strongly denied allegations that the country practises arbitrary detention. Gargash, who led a high-level delegation to a peer-review process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which each UN-member state undergoes every five years. “I would like to affirm that the UAE does not arrest or detain any person arbitrarily,” he said. “A person is immediately informed of the accusations against them. Everything that takes place is in line with our laws and done with concrete safeguards against arbitrary detention and arrest.
The remarks from the senior Emirati diplomat starkly contrasted with the opinion of four UN Special Rapporteurs – independent experts mandated to look into human rights violations – who in 2016 called on the UAE to respect the rights of several foreign nationals who were arbitrarily detained. Gargash’s comments came amid a quick-fire session held at the human rights conference room, with over 100 country-delegates given just over a minute each to speak. Rights organisations that took part in the UPR process by submitting documents detailing alleged human rights abuses, had mixed responses to the session;
  • Safwa Aissa, Executive Director of the Geneva-based International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, said of the session: “It’s not bad, but we wanted something better, especially from European countries. We had met with many countries beforehand and made them aware of the situation in the countries.”
  • Similarly, Julia Legner from Geneva-based Alkarama Foundation said: “It was slightly disappointing. I was expecting harsher criticism, given that it’s a peer review by states. It’s clear that some states will always congratulate the UAE.” “There could have been stronger comments on the total silencing of civil society, the crackdown on freedom of expression, which has reached a limit where there is no human rights defenders operating from within the UAE.” Responding to Gargash’s claim that arbitrary detention is not practised, she said: “We beg to differ and we have evidence.”
  • Toby Cadman, an international human rights barrister, said that while the UPR is “an important process,” it often has “the appearance of the Eurovision Song Contest of International Justice whereby friendly States, regional, diplomatic and trade partners pat each other on the back rather than offer constructive criticism and call for change”. “The UAE UPR was indicative of that approach today. There is a real need for fundamental reform in the UAE criminal justice and penal system.” 

David Haigh, who is bringing a legal case against UAE authorities for his arbitrary arrest and torture, criticised Gargash’s comments as untruthful. “I was arbitrarily detained for 15 months before I was charged. In the judgments against me one of the UAE courts confirmed that I had complained of arbitrary detention,” Haigh told MEE after the session. “Of course there is arbitrary detention.” Haigh, who has now established a foundation and law firm to assist others who suffer injustice in the UAE, said arbitrary detention happens “time and time again”.

 

Advancing human rights is a critical factor in ensuring stable societies and promoting development, ..The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that as a model nation for youth in the region, the UAE had sought to strengthen human rights and legal safeguards within the review framework overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights….In the context of a region where extremism creates division and polarisation, Mr Gargash said advancing human rights was a “powerful antidote” to pernicious forces.

“The promotion of tolerance and the rejection of extremism is fundamental to the advancement of human rights in the UAE and the wider region,” he told a packed chamber at the Palais des Nations. “Piece by piece, we have developed a comprehensive strategy to advance the cause of human rights in the UAE.” The UAE will establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles and guidance of the reporting process before the end of the year, he said. In responses to contributions from the floor, Dr Gargash said the country would also study joining additional protocols and extending invitations to special rapporteurs…

In response to allegations based on reporting about pre-trial detention, Dr Gargash said there was no detention without an arrest warrant…“The UAE is a bastion of stability where people from about 200 nationalities live peacefully in social and religious harmony. We are committed to finding the right balance between protecting our legitimate need for security and preserving our reputation as an open society.”….

He also pointed to the UAE’s role as the world’s largest donor of official development assistance as a proportion of its national income….

In its submission, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recognised considerable developments in the UAE in the past four years. “UAE’s efforts in combating trafficking are marked as a good example,” the office said. “This included the Adoption of Federal Act Law No 1 of 2015, which provides protection for victims of trafficking, and the 2012 and 2015 Amendments of Federal Law No 51 of 2006 on combating trafficking.” It also hailed the progress in raising the status of women. “The National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women in the UAE for 2015-2021 … provides a framework for government, private sector and civil society organisations to establish work plans to increase women’s presence and empowerment mainly in the economic sector in the UAE.”

Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, tours Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, around UAE culture exhibition (MEE/Amandla Thomas-Johnson)

Cultural diplomacy: Earlier in the day, Gargash had been the focus of attention as he hosted the director-general of the UN in Geneva, Michael Moller, around a new cultural exhibition the UAE had officially opened minutes before the human rights session began a floor above. Spread over two floors and including mock Bedouin tents and a photo exhibit, women took centre-stage at the UAE’s latest efforts at cultural diplomacy, with a troop of women clad in sequined abayas performing a fashion show for onlookers. But The Middle East Eye said that “UAE’s efforts at cultural diplomacy came under fire by Julia Legner, at Alkarama”:  “It’s part of the propaganda machine of the UAE, trying to portray an image of culture and tolerance and inclusion and progress. They’re using it as a chance to cover up the dark side.” 

For my earlier posts on the UAE, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/uae/

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-meeting-uae-heavily-criticised-rights-groups-arbitrary-detention-888227605

https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/uae-strategy-will-advance-human-rights-in-middle-east-gargash-tells-un-council-1.697809

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