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UAE Rejects UN Recommendations for Migrant Workers' Rights

On March 23, 2009

The UAE has rejected more human rights suggestions put forward by the United Nations as part of the country's Universal Periodic Review, including a number which specifically concern the treatment of migrant workers. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week to discuss the UAE's progress on adopting suggestions made by the UNHRC's Universal Periodic Review, carried out three months ago. You can read the text of his speech here.

Nine more out of 74 suggestions put forward by the UN have been rejected by UAE, while eight more remain under review. The UAE recieved its first-ever Universal Periodic Review in December 2008, in which its human rights record came under tight scrutiny by the UN. While suggestions by observer nations such as strengthening protection for women and children and signing a UN Protocol on organised crime were accepted, more controversial recommendations such as allowing migrant workers to form trade unions have been dismissed.

Among the suggestions by observer nations rejected by the UAE are:

-To step up efforts to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights
of migrant workers are fully respected (Sweden)

-To take the necessary measures to guarantee access to civil, penal and labour justice, as well as assistance and consular protection for all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, to ascertain their rights in cases of abuse (Mexico)

-That a new law should ensure the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, in accordance with international human rights law (Norway)

See the full Khaleej Times article on this here.

According to Gargash, these suggestions 'did not enjoy the country's support because of several social, cultural and legal factors.'

While UN has been broadly satisfied with the UAE's progress, the local press has reported the UNHCR's positive comments as a major accolade to the country's human rights record. The issue of the treatment of migrant workers, on which Dubai has a less-then-glittering record, has remained largely undiscussed in the media.

While the UAE has made some impressive progress in areas such as improving rights for children and relaxing laws on media censorship, it appears that the country is still at pains to deflect attention away from human rights abuses on home turf - most notably its dire record on the treatment of migrant labourers. The local media has jumped on the opportunity to contrast the UNHRC's praise for the UAE's human right's record with the scathing criticism dished out to Israel during their Universal Periodic Review.

As one journalist wrote in The National:

The Human Rights Council was created a year ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, and has consistently condemned Israel. In contrast to the tone of the UAE session, for example, Israel’s delegation was lambasted yesterday for its military activities in the Palestinian Territories, especially its recent offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The Universal Periodic Review has highlighted some areas where impressive progress has been made in the UAE. However the UAE has demonstrated that it is still unable to face up to some highly uncomfortable home truths about the abuses of the human rights of migrant workers.