(CNSNews.com) – The State Department forged a nuclear cooperation deal with a Middle East ally that the department’s own human rights report criticizes for censorship of the media, trials without juries, arrests of homosexuals, flogging of prisoners who violate Islamic rules, and religious sermons drafted by a government agency, among other concerns.
The nuclear agreement between the United States and the UAE was concluded five days before President Barack Obama was inaugurated. The White House is expected to send it to Congress after April 20 for review. The State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is highly critical of the nation,which is made up of seven semiautonomous emirates. But it also credits the wealthy country – population of nearly 5 million, less than a quarter of whom are citizens – for prosecuting police corruption and allowing women to advance in the government.
“The constitution prohibits torture; however, there were unverifiable allegations of tortured political prisoners during the year, as well as reports that a royal family member tortured a foreign national who had allegedly overcharged him in a grain deal,” the report says.
The report further says that, in compliance with Islamic law, “Courts sometimes imposed flogging sentences as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside of marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol abuse. Authorities used canes to administer floggings, resulting in substantial bruising, welts and open wounds on recipients’ bodies.”
Prosecutors are allowed to detain suspects for up to 21 days before charging them. Trials are held without juries. Non-Governmental Organizations arenot allowed to monitor the prisons.
While no homosexuals received the death penalty in the UAE, as required under Shari’a law, law enforcement did arrest openly homosexual people. Also, on May 26, Dubai police arrested 40 cross-dressing tourists in local shopping malls and deported them soon after.
Once the nuclear cooperation deal is submitted, Congress has 90 days to review the agreement, which would allow joint ventures with U.S. firms to assist the UAE in building a fleet of civilian nuclear power plants, the first of which would be operating by 2017. The agreement would become binding absent congressional action within those 90 days. (If Congress objects through a joint resolution, the proposal could be amended or shelved.)
The agreement includes, as it states, an “exchange of scientific and technical information and documentation” between the United States and UAE; an “exchange and training of personnel;” “provisions relevant to technical assistance,” and the transfer of “material, equipment and components.” A key concern for members of Congress has been that the country has a record as a transshipment post to Iran. (See Previous Story.)
Though human trafficking is illegal in the UAE, it continued to be a major problem in 2008 as the government did not have a way to monitor it, according to the State Department report.
“Women from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines migrated willingly to the country to work as domestic servants, but some faced debt bondage to recruiters; conditional to involuntary servitude such as excessive work hours without pay; verbal, mental, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement,” the report says.
“Similarly, men from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who came to the country to work in the construction industry were sometimes subject to involuntary servitude and debt bondage to pay off recruitment costs,” the report continued. “Although illegal, it was customary for employers to take custody of workers’ passports. Observers believed that resident citizen employment sponsors and foreign-based traffickers partnered to traffic women and girls into the country, especially to Dubai, for commercial sexual exploitation.”
The law prohibits the employment of anyone under age 15, but there were “rare reports of foreign children who came to the country under their parents’ work permits and subsequently were pressured to work.”
Further, UAE law enforcement sometimes discourages abused workers from making a complaint and sometimes sided with the employer.
“There were reports from foreign embassies that some police authorities pressured victims not to pursue complaints against their employers and assisted employers in repatriating victims before a criminal complaint could be filed,” the State Department says.
With no minimum wage, no laws requiring overtime pay, and no legal unions, employers have wide latitude. Workers were “banned” in their contracts from leaving their jobs and working for a competitor. Meanwhile, the report says, “some low-skilled and foreign laborers faced substandard living in ‘labor camps.’”
“On August 26, a fire killed 11 workers in a labor housing unit in Dubai. In response, the Dubai government sent warning notices to contractors to vacate 422 labor housing units for noncompliance with safety conditions,” the report said.
There was some positive news in the report. The government does not completely ignore abuses of power, according to the State Department.
For example, authorities prosecuted 25 jail wardens and a former prison director of the Dubai Central Detention Facility for abusing inmates in July 2008. In one instance, the wardens “beat an Armenian inmate, leaving him with a spinal injury that led to a permanent disability.” They were sentenced to three six-month prison terms. However, an appeals court suspended the sentence of the 25 wardens, while the prison director’s appeal is still pending.
Though it is a Muslim country with religious laws governing the country, women can hold office in the UAE.
“Four women were appointed ministers in the cabinet; nine women, one of whom was elected, served in the FNC [Federal National Council]; and despite a law prohibiting women from serving in the judiciary, several women served as public prosecutors or judges,” the report says. “In Sharjah, seven women served on the 40-seat Consultative Council, and two women served as directors of local departments; however, no women held nonfederal senior government positions in the other emirates.”
Meanwhile, women make up 65 percent of university students and “girls and women are more academically successful and continued to higher levels of education than their male peers,” the report states.
However, women still face many obstacles under the legal structure of the country.
Domestic abuse is a “pervasive problem” in the UAE, according to the State Department. “The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Nevertheless, some domestic abuse cases may be filed as assault without intent to kill, punishable by 10 years in prison if death results, seven years for permanent disability, and one year for temporary injury.”
The report continues: “Child abuse was not prevalent, although there was some evidence that societal influences prevented cases from being reported. The law protects children from abuse and trafficking and the government provides shelter and help for victims. However, the law does not address female genital mutilation (FGM), which some Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates practiced.”
Meanwhile, the law allows men to have as many as four wives, and imposes numerous legal obstacles for women to get a divorce. Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men.
There are few religious liberties in the UAE, but non-Muslim religions are allowed to assemble to worship on a limited basis.
nt’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE) grants religious institutions, such as mosques or other organizations, the right to use land and construct a building for religious purposes. The GAIAE committee drafts and distributes Friday sermons to Sunni and Shia imams, “and the government monitored sermons for adherence to the scripted content,” the report said.
“Non-Muslimes were subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment and deportations if they were found proselytizing or distributing religious literature to Muslims,” the report said, “however, there were no reports of such actions this year.”
The government banned religious publications and blocked Web sites that promote Judaism, Christianity, the Baha’i faith and anything critical of Islam.
On political matters, “The law prohibits criticism of rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. Journalists and editors practiced extensive self-censorship for fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were of foreign origin and feared deportation,” the report said.
The government owns three of the country’s major newspapers, and most of the TV and radio stations. Last June, a Pakistani TV station, GEO News, left the UAE. Station managers said the government gave them 48 hours to leave.
“By law the National Media Council (NMC), appointed by the president, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications,” reads the State Department report. “
Media outlets must inform the NMC of the appointment of editors, and the NMC is responsible for issuing press credentials. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments, as well as other statements that “threaten social stability.”
April 14, 2009, Fred Lucas, CNSNews.COM