Despite the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in 2012, the practice of torture remains widespread in the UAE. On July 13 and 14, 2022, the UN Committee against Torture examined the UAE’s implementation of the provisions of the UNCAT for the first time.
In its dialogue with the UAE delegation, the Committee against Torture raised multiple concerns regarding the various provisions of the UNCAT that remain unimplemented in the UAE, both in law and in practice. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have widely documented acts of torture committed by UAE authorities, which continue to be treated with complete impunity. Furthermore, legal safeguards against torture remain absent from the Emirates’ legislation.
Following the publication of the Committee’s Concluding Observations on July 29, 2022, we, the undersigned organisations, call upon UAE authorities to fully implement the Committee’s recommendations.
In its Concluding Observations, the Committee noted with concern the lack of a definition of torture within the UAE’s legislation that conforms with article 1 of the UNCAT. The Committee further highlighted the lack of legal provisions establishing that no exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification for the practice of torture. In this regard, the Committee urged the UAE to establish in its national law a definition of torture in line with the definition provided in article 1 of the Convention. It further recommended that the UAE authorities ensure that the prohibition of torture is established as absolute and non-derogable in national legislation.
To date, Emirati law does not criminalise torture in a manner entirely consistent with the Convention. Article 26 of the Emirati constitution states that “[n]o man shall be subjected to torture or other indignity,” while article 28 prohibits “[t]he infliction of physical or mental harm on an accused person.” In turn, various provisions within the penal code impose a prison sentence against public officials “who use torture […] against an accused person” or who “use the authority of their office to subject others to cruel treatment.” However, the Committee regretted that Emirati law allows for discretion in sentencing, allowing for prison terms ranging from three to fifteen years, and the classification of torture as a misdemeanour in some cases, which does not take into account the gravity of the offence.
Fundamental legal safeguards
The Emirati legal system does not provide sufficient safeguards to prevent the practice of torture against those detained, and in practice, even existing legal guarantees are not respected.
Time limits imposed on custody, for example, do not apply to cases falling under the 2003 State Security Law, which grants the president of the State Security Apparatus (SSA) the authority to order the detention of suspects for up to 60 days, which can be renewed for another 30 days, before being presented to the public prosecution. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has maintained that the 90-day delay detailed in Emirati law violates the right to be brought promptly before a judicial authority.
Accordingly, the Committee recommended that the UAE “take effective steps to ensure that persons who are arrested have the benefit of all fundamental legal safeguards from the very outset of their detention, including their rights to promptly receive independent legal assistance, to be informed of their rights and of the charges against them, to notify a member of their family or another appropriate person of their own choice of their detention, to request and obtain immediate access to an independent doctor, to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, and to have their complaints promptly and impartially examined.”
Counterterrorism and State Security Laws
The UAE’s 2014 Counterterrorism Law and the 2003 Law on the State Security Apparatus (SSA), which grants the SSA investigative powers over terrorist offences, contain vague and overly broad terminology. In practice, this provides the SSA with the discretion to commit gross human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearance, long-term solitary confinement, arbitrary arrest, and detention, most notably against government critics, political opposition figures, and human rights defenders.
Having received reports that detail a pattern of torture and ill-treatment against human rights defenders, activists, and individuals accused of terrorism or state security-related crimes, the Committee called upon the UAE to “ensure that security and law enforcement officials who engage in torture are prosecuted and punished with penalties that are commensurate with the gravity of the offence of torture.” It asked the UAE to ensure that “all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of persons accused of involvement in terrorist acts or acts against state security are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated, that perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment are prosecuted and duly punished, and that the rules governing the state security apparatus are made available to the public in a transparent manner, including through their publication on government websites.”
The Committee further expressed its concerns over the use of Munasaha (counseling) centres to “indefinitely extend the incarceration of convicted individuals” beyond the periods laid out in their sentences. It recommended that the Emirati authorities ensure that orders for detention in Munasaha centres are limited in duration, that the maximum period for detention in these centres are well defined by law and that “detainees have the ability to challenge the legality of their detention.”
Having received reports that confessions obtained under torture were used as the main evidence to convict and sentence individuals, the Committee expressed its concerns over such investigation practices. It recommended that the UAE “take effective steps to ensure in practice that confessions obtained through torture or ill-treatment are ruled inadmissible and investigated.” The Committee further requested that the UAE authorities provide information on any cases in which confessions were deemed inadmissible on the grounds that they had been obtained through torture or ill-treatment and to identify cases in which officials were prosecuted or punished for their involvement in the extraction of such coerced confessions.
Torture practices in Yemen
Despite the UAE’s official announcement in 2019 of its withdrawal from the armed conflict in Yemen, the UAE continues to support Yemeni armed groups that have been responsible for committing grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture. The UAE and the groups it supports control secret detention sites, where torture is widespread, including in Al-Rayyan International Airport, Rabwet Khalf, 7th of October Prison, Al Jalaa Camp, Waddah Hall, and in the Emirates’ former military headquarters in Yemen.
In that regard, the Committee urged the Emirati authorities to “take effective measures to prevent acts of torture or ill-treatment in all areas” where the UAE exercises its jurisdiction. It further urged the UAE to “undertake prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture or ill-treatment in any territory under its jurisdiction and by all actors whose actions are attributable to the [UAE].”
The United Arab Emirates is now expected to submit, by July 29, 2023, specific and up-to-date information on its implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee, including those pertaining to the definition and criminalisation of torture, torture practices in the conflict in Yemen, the absolute prohibition of torture in the context of countering terrorism, and gender-based violence.
We, the undersigned organisations, call on the Emirati authorities to quickly develop and implement a national plan to combat torture and to fully implement all the recommendations contained in the Committee’s Concluding Observations.
ALQST for Human Rights
Association for the Victims of Torture in the UAE (AVT-UAE)
Democracy for the Arab World Now
Emirates Center for Human Rights
Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE)
International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR)
MENA Rights Group
Mwatana for Human Rights
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)