Human Rights Challenges in the context of Counter-Terrorism in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Two non-governmental organisations namely, International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) and Conseil de Jeunesse Pluriculturelle (COJEP) held a side event at Palais des Nations in Geneva on “Human Rights Challenges in the context of Counter-Terrorism: Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Curtailing of Fundamental Freedoms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)” on Tuesday March 14, 2017. There were interventions from Ms. Julia Legner, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf of
Al-Karama Foundation, and Ms. Shazia Arshad, Human Rights Researcher in the Middle East. Apart from the two distinguished speakers, a video presentation on conditions of detention in the context of counter-terrorism in the UAE was also shown to raise awareness of conditions and maltreatments of detainees, particularly, prisoners of conscience in the detention centres in the country.
In the beginning of the conference, Ms. Jittawadee Chotinukul, Human Rights Researcher of International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR), opened the discussion by welcoming all participants and introducing each speaker, sessions of the conference as well as issues to be discussed in the conference.
Ms. Legner presented that since the Arab Spring, state security and terrorism has been increasingly used as a pretext to crack down on peaceful activists or political opponents. She further shared her insightful comments on legal loopholes in counter- terrorism as follows:
Human rights violations under the pretext of the ‘fight against terrorism’
She pointed out that the 2014 Federal Law No. 7 on Combating
Terrorism Offences provides an extremely broad and vague
definition of terrorism. For instance, Article 1 defines that
‘terrorism’ is any act that would cause ‘unrest or panic among
a group of people’ or that would ‘upset the State’, without specifying for example the violent nature of such act. This, in her opinion, paves the way for criminalization against the protests’ peaceful acts. Moreover, under the terrorism law, the periods of pre-trial detention can be
extended by renewable three-month periods, without detainees being brought before a court, which clearly contravenes the international standards.
She also discussed about the 2012 Federal Law No. 5 on Combating Cybercrimes that it includes harsh punishments that could go up to life sentence and/or heavy fines subject to severity and seriousness of the cybercrime.
Amendments to the Penal Code
In September 2016, the UAE made amendments to the Penal Code, many of which endanger basic rights including, the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The new law for instance punishes with 10-25 years of imprisonment anyone who ‘insults, mocks, harms the reputation, prestige or statute of the state, its flag, emblem, symbols or any of its institutions’. Other articles further restrict the right to freedom of expression by criminalizing any communication of ideas that ‘endanger State security’, a vague term used to prosecute individuals over twitter posts that denounced human rights abuses in the UAE.