Committee against Torture
Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Arab Emirates *
1.The Committee considered the initial report of the United Arab Emirates at its 1914th and 1917th meetings, held on 13 and 14 July 2022, and adopted the present concluding observations at its 1930th meeting, held on 25 July 2022.
2.The Committee welcomes the submission of the State party’s initial report, but regrets that it was submitted five years late.
3.The Committee appreciates having had the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with the State party’s delegation, and the responses provided to the questions and concerns raised during the consideration of the report.
B. Positive aspects
4.The Committee welcomes the State party’s accession to or ratification of the following international instruments:
(a)The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in 1974;
(b)The Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1997;
(c)The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in 2004;
(d)The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2009;
(e)The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2010;
(f)The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in 2016;
(g)Other international conventions, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption, in 2006, and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2007.
5.The Committee also welcomes the State party’s initiatives to revise and introduce legislation in areas of relevance to the Convention, including the adoption of the following:
(a)Federal Law No. 43 of 1992, concerning the regulation of penal and correctional facilities;
(b)Federal Law No. 51 of 2006, as amended by Federal Law No. 1 of 2015, criminalizing trafficking in persons and establishing the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, and decision No. 32/7 of 2014, by which the National Committee establisheda support fund for victims of trafficking in persons;
(c)Federal Law No. 52 of 2006, removing corporal punishment from the Penal Code;
(d)Federal Law No. 3 of 2016, concerning the rights of the child;
(e)The 2016 amendment to the Penal Code of 1987 abolishing article 53(1), removing exceptions for domestic violence;
(f)Federal Law No. 10 of 2017, introducing safeguards for migrant and domestic workers;
(g)Federal Decree-Law No. 10 of 2019, strengthening protections relating to domestic violence;
(h)Federal Law No. 14 of 2020, on witness protection;
(i)Federal Decree-Law No. 28 of 2020, amending the Code of Criminal Procedure (Federal Law No. 35 of 1992), codifying the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture.
6.The Committee commends the State party’s initiatives to amend its policies and procedures in order to afford greater human rights protection and to apply the Convention more widely, in particular the following:
(a)The national strategy for theempowerment of Emirati women, 2015–2021;
(b)The strategy of the Ministry of the Interior, 2014–2016, aimed, inter alia, at disseminating a human rights culture, at improving the rights of detainees and at training personnel employed in penal institutions.
C. Principal subjects of concern and recommendations
Definition and criminalization of torture
7.The Committee notes the information provided by the State party regarding the prohibition of torture included in the Constitution, the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, it regrets that the State party has not yet established a definition of the offence of torture that is in conformity with article 1 of the Convention. Moreover, regarding the national legal framework criminalizing torture, the Committee notes the following concerns:
(a)The application of the prohibition of torture included in the Penal Code is limited to public officials who use torture against an accused person, a witness or an expert;
(b)The State party’s legislation lacks a provision which establishes that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture, in line with article 2 (2) of the Convention;
(c)Penalties established in the Penal Code for the crime of torture, including discretion in sentencing, which allows for terms of imprisonment ranging from 3 to 15 years, and the classification of torture as a misdemeanour in certain cases, are not commensurate with the gravity of the offence;
(d)A statute of limitations continues to apply to the offence of torture, which in some cases can expire after as little as five years (arts. 1, 2 and 4).
8. The Committee urges the State party to establish in its national law a definition of torture in line with that provided in article 1 of the Convention. The State party should review and amend its legislation to ensure that all forms of torture are prohibited in line with the definition contained in article 1 of the Convention, noting that serious discrepancies between the Convention ’ s definition of torture and that incorporated into domestic law create actual or potential loopholes for impunity. In addition, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure that the prohibition of torture is established as absolute and non-derogable in national legislation, and that no exceptional circumstances, including a state of emergency or threat of war, can be used to justify the use of torture, in line with article 2 (2) of the Convention;
(b) Ensure that penalties for torture are commensurate with the gravity of the crime, as set out in article 4 (2) of the Convention;
(c) Ensure that, since the prohibition of torture is absolute, there is no statute of limitations for acts of torture, so that persons who commit or are complicit in such crimes can be effectively investigated, prosecuted and punished.
Application of the Convention
9.The Committee notes the information provided by the State party regarding its declaration on articles 1 and 16 of the Convention, which excludes pain or suffering arising from lawful sanctions from the definition of torture, and welcomes the willingness of the State party to consider the withdrawal of that declaration. However, while noting that instances are rare or may not even exist in practice, the Committee remains concerned over the lack of information provided regarding the competence of courts, including sharia courts, in handing down corporal or capital sentences that may constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (arts. 1, 2, 4 and 16).
10. The Committee recommends that the State party consider, as a matter of priority, withdrawing its declaration on articles 1 and 16 of the Convention and adopt legislation that expressly prohibits the imposition of criminal sanctions that may constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in all circumstances and under all jurisdictions.
Fundamental legal safeguards
11.The Committee is concerned at reports that, despite legislative provisions providing for fundamental legal safeguards, such as those contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, detainees often have difficulty gaining access to counsel, a doctor and family members or other persons of their choice. The Committee is also concerned by reports that detainees are deprived of their right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, and to have their complaints promptly and impartially examined, especially when the offences for which they are detained involve political activities or State security (arts. 2 and 16).
12. The Committee recommends that the State party 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.
Allegations of torture or ill-treatment
13.The Committee takes note of the information provided by the State party’s delegation regarding the number of complaints, prosecutions and convictions for torture since 2019. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned at reports detailing allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by security and law enforcement officials. The Committee expresses particular concern that reports received detail a pattern of torture and ill-treatment against human rights defenders and persons accused of offences against State security who, by virtue of the State security or terrorism charges against them, are subject to a legal regime with fewer and more restrictive procedural guarantees. The Committee is further concerned at reports of torture or ill-treatment of detainees in reprisal for their cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (arts. 2, 11 and 16).
14. The Committee calls upon the State party to:
(a) Ensure that officials of the State party at the highest levels unambiguously reaffirm the absolute prohibition of torture and publicly condemn all practices of torture, issuing a clear warning that anyone committing such acts or otherwise complicit or participating in torture will be held personally responsible before the law and will be subject to criminal prosecution and appropriate penalties;
(b) Ensure that human rights defenders, including those sharing information with United Nations human rights mechanisms, are able to work safely and effectively in the State party, including by creating an enabling environment in which they can carry out their work in the promotion and protection of human rights;
(c) Ensure that counter-terrorism laws and laws related to S tate security comply fully with international human rights standards, including through the provision of all fundamental legal safeguards outlined in paragraph 13 of general comment No. 2 (2007), and that these safeguards are applied in practice;
(d) 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, as required under article 4 of the Convention;
(e) Continue and enhance training of all security and law enforcement officials on the absolute ban on torture, on the provisions of the Convention, and on the use of non-coercive criminal investigation techniques.
Conflict in Yemen
15.Notwithstanding information provided to the Committee regarding the withdrawal of the armed forces of the State party from the territory of Yemen in 2019, it is concerned about reports of grave human rights violations carried out by the regular armed forces of the State party, by non-State actors whose actions are attributable to the State party, and in detention centres under the jurisdiction of the State party, notably in Rayyan International Airport, Rabwet Khalf, 7th of October prison, Jal’ahcamp, Waddah Hall and the State party’s former military headquarters in Yemen. The Committee regrets the lack of information provided by the State party regarding the number of complaints, investigations and prosecutions of, and convictions in, cases of torture and ill-treatment in the context of the conflict in Yemen, relating both to regular armed forces and to armed groups whose actions are attributable to the State party (arts. 2, 12–14 and 16).
16.The Committee wishes to remind the State party that the concept of “ any territory under its jurisdiction ” , linked as it is with the principle of non-derogability, includes any such territory or facilities and must be applied to protect any person, citizen or non-citizen without discrimination subject to the de jure or de facto control of a State party. The Committee emphasi z es that the State ’ s obligation to prevent torture also applies to all persons who act at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of , the State party. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Take effective measures to prevent acts of torture or ill-treatment in all areas where the State party exercises jurisdiction and by all persons who act at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of , the State party;
(b) 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 State party;
(c) Ensure that the ongoing training of military personnel and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in the context of extraterritorial military operations includes appropriate training on obligations arising under the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and international humanitarian law;
(d) Provide the Committee with information regarding the number of complaints, investigations and prosecutions of, and convictions in, cases of torture and ill-treatment considered and implemented by the State party in the context of the conflict in Yemen;
(e) Ensure that all victims of torture and ill-treatment have the right to complain to, and to have their cases promptly and impartially examined by, the State party ’ s competent authorities, and that they are able to obtain redress and fair and adequate compensation, including rehabilitation, when such acts of torture and ill-treatment are attributable to the State party or have been carried out in areas under its jurisdiction.
17.The Committee is concerned over the vague and overbroad terminology contained in Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 relating to counter-terrorism efforts, including the legal definition of terrorism. The Committee is similarly concerned that this law provides for exceptions to the Code of Criminal Procedure that allow for remand on the initiative of the prosecutor for up to three months, and an unlimited extension of remand upon judicial order. The Committee is also concerned by the vague and overbroad terminology of Federal Law No. 2 of 2003, which attributes extensive powers to the State security apparatus to take necessary measures to monitor and limit social phenomena affecting the State party’s security, and the lack of transparency regarding the rules governing the State security apparatus. The Committee is further concerned over reports that individuals arrested by State security forces are often denied basic due process rights and subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including incommunicado detention, and over the use of m unasaha(“counselling”) centres to indefinitely extend the incarceration of convicted individuals considered to hold terrorist, extremist or deviant views beyond the time provided for in their sentences (arts. 2, 11–13 and 16).
18.The State party should ensure that its counter-terrorism measures and legislation are in conformity with the Convention ’ s prohibitions against torture and ill-treatment, that adequate and effective legal safeguards are in place, that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of persons accused of involvement in terrorist acts or acts against S tate 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 S tate security apparatus are made available to the public in a transparent manner, including through their publication on government websites . In order to reduce the risk of torture and ill-treatment, the State party should take the measures necessary to prohibit and prevent incommunicado detention and any other forms of illegal detention and ensure that detainees enjoy basic safeguards against torture, including the right to be brought promptly before a judge . The Committee also recommends that detentions in m unasaha centres be based on clear and identifiable criteria established by law, that orders for such detentions be limited in duration, that maximum periods of detention in m unasaha centres be clearly defined by law, and that detainees have the ability to challenge the legality of their detention.
Principle of non-refoulement
19.The Committee notes information provided by the State party that, during the period under review, no cases of extradition of a foreign national have occurred, and that no extradition may take place in the absence of an extradition agreement. The Committee also takes note of Federal Law No. 39 of 2006, which prohibits extradition in cases where a person may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or for crimes of a political nature. However, it is concerned that neither Federal Law No. 6 of 1973, nor Federal Law No. 2 of 2003, both of which provide for deportation of foreign nationals on the basis of State security, allow for deportation orders to be challenged in cases where a person may be subjected to torture or ill-treatment in the receiving country, nor do they provide safeguards against deportation in such circumstances. The Committee expresses its particular concern over reports of the mass summary deportation of approximately 800 African migrants lawfully resident in the State party in 2021, including allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention prior to deportation, a lack of issuance of arrest warrants, and deportation in the absence of an individual determination of the likelihood of the individual’s being subjected to torture or ill-treatment in the receiving country (arts. 2–3 and 16).
20. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Abide by its obligations under article 3 of the Convention and ensure that, in law and in practice, no one may be expelled, returned or extradited to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture or ill-treatment;
(b) Guarantee , given the substantial proportion of foreign nationals in the population of the State party, that all foreign nationals at risk of deportation, including those from “ safe ” countries of origin, have access to fair procedures, including a detailed and thorough interview to assess the risk that they may be subjected to torture and ill-treatment in their country of origin in view of their personal circumstances;
(c) Consider acceding to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol thereto .
21.The Committee welcomes information provided by the State party detailing the training on prevention of torture and ill-treatment provided to personnel of penal and correctional institutions and members of the judiciary, along with training for medical professionals on the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol). However, the Committee is concerned that information provided by the State party indicates that public officials do not receive mandatory training specifically related to the Convention and the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment (arts. 2, 10 and 16).
22. The State party should:
(a) Include the provisions of the Convention in the curricula of mandatory courses for police, law enforcement and national security officers, military personnel, border guards, prison staff, judges, prosecutors and lawyers;
(b) Ensure that all relevant staff, including medical personnel, are specifically trained to identify and document cases of torture and ill-treatment and that they report them to the respective competent authorities , in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol (as revised);
(c) Develop and implement a methodology to assess the effectiveness and impact of educational training programmes relating to the Convention and the Istanbul Protocol (as revised).
Independence of the judiciary
23.The Committee takes note of information provided by the State party regarding efforts made to increase the representation of women in the judiciary and to reduce its reliance on foreign judges. However, it expresses its concerns over reports of excessive control of the executive branch in the appointment of the judiciary resulting in a lack of accountability for executive actions. The Committee is also concerned over the lack of tenure for foreign judges, rendering them susceptible to political pressure (arts. 2, 12–14 and 16).
24. The Committee recommends that the State party continue to take additional measures to ensure the full independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the judiciary, enhance the security of tenure for foreign judges, increase the representation of women in the judiciary, and review the regime of appointment, promotion and dismissal of judges in line with the relevant international standards, including the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. The Committee further recommends that the State party implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers developed following her 2014 visit.
Monitoring of detention facilities
25.The Committee welcomes the information provided by the State party regarding Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provide for the monitoring of places of detention by members of the public prosecution office. It similarly thanks the State party for data provided regarding the number of such visits and meetings with detainees and welcomes the extension of the remit to monitor places of detention to the newly established national human rights institution. However, the Committee is concerned that article 108 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows other public authorities to carry out visits to places of detention only upon the written authorization of the public prosecution office. The Committee is also concerned over reports that civil society organizations and other bodies with an interest in the promotion and protection of human rights are prohibited from entering places of detention. The Committee is further concerned over reports that, in practice, detainees do not have the opportunity to meet with members of the public prosecution office to lodge complaints, and that the power of the public prosecution office to meet with detainees is discretionary (arts. 2, 12–13 and 16).
26. The State party should:
(a) Take measures to ensure that all places of detention and deprivation of liberty are subject to independent, effective and regular monitoring and inspection without prior notice, and enable monitors to identify conditions, treatment or conduct in places of deprivation of liberty amounting to torture or ill-treatment , carry out confidential interviews with detainees, and report on their findings to the concerned authorities;
(b) Ensure that effective, independent and accessible complaints mechanisms are available to all persons deprived of their liberty;
(c) Ensure that the newly established national human rights institution is provided with all resources and access necessary to carry out its functions in the monitoring of all places of deprivation of liberty, and that it is able to receive and consider complaints relating to torture and ill-treatment in detention;
(d) Allow civil society organizations and other bodies with an interest in the protection and promotion of human rights to access places of detention and deprivation of liberty;
(e) Consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as soon as possible.
National h uman r ights i nstitution
27.The Committee welcomes the establishment by the State party of a national human rights institution through Federal Law No. 12 of 2021 and looks forward to its accreditation in line with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles). The Committee also welcomes the information provided by the delegation regarding the creation of a national human rights committee to ensure coordination with United Nations human rights mechanisms (arts. 2 and 12–13).
28. The Committee urges the State party to provide all technical, financial and human resources necessary to the national human rights institution and ensure its political and financial independence with a view to its accreditation in line with the Paris Principles. The Committee also recommends that the State party consider the establishment of a permanent national coordinating committee, endowed with the resources necessary to ensure interaction with the United Nations human rights system, including in the preparation and submission of reports to the United Nations treaty bodies, in line with Human Rights Council resolution 42/30.
Redress, including compensation and rehabilitation
29.While noting the information provided by the State party regarding the establishment of shelters accessible to victims of torture and the availability of compensation as a judicial form of redress, the Committee regrets that the State party failed to provide comprehensive information on redress afforded to victims of torture or ill-treatment under the existing legislation providing for civil remedies, or under any other viable recourse, allowing for those victims to claim pecuniary, as well as non-pecuniary, damages and acquire access to medical and psychosocial rehabilitation. The Committee is also concerned at reports of the failure of authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of torture (arts. 12 and 14).
30. The Committee wishes to remind the State party that failure to investigate, criminally prosecute, or allow civil proceedings related to allegations of acts of torture in a prompt manner may constitute a de facto denial of redress and thus constitute a violation of its obligations under article 14 of the Convention. The State party should ensure that victims of torture and ill-treatment obtain redress, including the means for as full a rehabilitation as possible, and are able to claim pecuniary, as well as non-pecuniary, damages and acquire access to medical and psychosocial rehabilitation. The Committee also recommends that the State party consider renewing its financial support to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
Gender-based violence and harmful practices
31.The Committee welcomes the meaningful legal reforms made by the State party to combat domestic violence. However, it regrets that article 10 of Federal Decree-Law No. 10 of 2019 requires the prosecution to offer a conciliation settlement to victims, which may result in impunity for perpetrators. The Committee is further concerned at reports of the continued practice of female genital mutilation in the State party, and the lack of legislation explicitly criminalizing this practice (arts. 2, 4, 12 and 16).
32. The State party should take effective measures to ensure that all cases of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and harmful practices, and especially those cases involving actions or omissions by State authorities or other entities that engage the international responsibility of the State party under the Convention, are thoroughly investigated, that all perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished appropriately, and that the victims or their families receive full rehabilitation and redress, including adequate compensation. The Committee also recommends that the State party consider adopting legislation explicitly criminali z ing female genital mutilation, along with launching an awareness - raising campaign on the dangers and prohibition of female genital mutilation, with a view to its elimination.
Confessions obtained through torture and ill-treatment
33.While the Committee commends the State party for the introduction of Federal Decree-Law No. 28 of 2020, which amended article 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence obtained through torture, it regrets the lack of data provided by the State party regarding the number of instances in which evidence was deemed inadmissible on this basis. The Committee is also concerned at reports of convictions based solely on confessions obtained through torture (arts. 2 and 15).
34. The Committee recommends that the State party take effective steps to ensure in practice that confessions obtained through torture or ill-treatment are ruled inadmissible and investigated. The Committee also requests the State party to provide it with information on any cases in which confessions were deemed inadmissible on the grounds that they had been obtained through torture or ill-treatment and indicate whether any officials have been prosecuted and punished for extracting such confessions.
Conditions of detention
35.While noting the information provided by the State party regarding Federal Law No. 43 of 1992, the Committee is concerned over reports of conditions of detention that may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 16).
36. The Committee calls upon the State party to intensify its efforts to bring conditions of detention into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and to investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
37.The Committee notes the information provided by the State party on the number of capital sentences handed down in past years, and the mechanism for reduction of sentences in consultation with the families of victims. However, it regrets that the death penalty is still provided for in law and that death sentences continue to be handed down. The Committee also expresses concern over information provided by the State party that those convicted of capital offences may spend years on death row (arts. 2 and 16).
38. The Committee invites the State party to establish a moratorium on the death penalty and to take appropriate steps to commute all death sentences to other punishments, and urges it to improve the conditions of detention of prisoners on death row. The Committee further invites the State party to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
39. The Committee requests the State party to provide, by 29 July 2023, information on follow-up to the Committee ’ s recommendations on the criminalization of torture, on prevention of and redress for torture in the context of the State party ’ s involvement in the conflict in Yemen, on counter-terrorism and on gender-based violence (see paras. 8, 16 (a ) and ( e), 18 and 32 above) . In that context, the State party is invited to inform the Committee about its plans for implementing, within the coming reporting period, some or all of the remaining recommendations in the concluding observations.
40. The Committee encourages the State party to consider making the declarations under articles 21 and 22 of the Convention, and to withdraw its reservations under articles 20 and 30 ( 2 ) of the Convention.
41. The Committee recommends that the State party strengthen its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including by permitting visits of, inter alia, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls , its causes and consequences, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
42. The State party is requested to widely disseminate the report submitted to the Committee and the present concluding observations, in appropriate languages, through official websites, the media and non-governmental organizations and to inform the Committee about its dissemination activities.
43. The Committee requests the State party to submit its next periodic report, which will be its second, by 29 July 2026. To that end, the Committee invites the State party to accept, by 29 July 2023, the simplified reporting procedure consisting in the transmittal , by the Committee to the State party , of a list of issues prior to the submission of the report. The State party ’ s replies to that list of issues would constitute its second periodic report under article 19 of the Convention.