Road to Human Rights

DUBAI - Dr Mohammed Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, will meet with representatives from Indonesia, Argentina and Cameroon on Thursday to discuss the UAE’s record on human rights.

By Preeti Kannan And Emily Meredith

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Published: Fri 5 Dec 2008, 12:56 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 5:13 PM

The discussion, set to last three hours at the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva, will centre on issues of labourers, women and education, outlined in the UAE’s own report on its human rights situation and in reports published by international NGOs.

Thursday’s meeting will make the UAE the 39th country to undergo the new Universal Periodic Review process, in which the UNHRC is examining all 192 members in a four-year period.

While the UAE’s report focuses heavily on the progress the 37-year-old country has made in the areas of education, health and affordable housing, officials have opted for a modest view of their progress so far.

“The UAE in many areas has important development and contribution, but we can do better. Last year, we had received lots of criticism on labour issues and we have addressed them. We are trying to improve our record,” said Gargash when the report was initially published.

Thursday’s discussion will include concerns raised by NGOs, according to a UN official. International human rights organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Mafiwasta have repeatedly raised concerns regarding non-payment of wages, non-payment of overtime dues, unsafe working environments, overcrowded living conditions and passport seizure by employers.

The US State Department has called human trafficking an “‘endemic problem” in the country.

Alkarama for Human Rights, based in Geneva, said people detained on anti-terrorism charges were unable to contact outside parties. The UAE national report, though, says embassies and consulates made 1,273 visits to penal facilities in 2007 and 2008, with additional visits from the Red Crescent and other organisations and agencies.

Gargash highlighted the progress in some areas, particularly protection of labour rights, a primary concern given the number of people affected. According to the nation’s report, more than 3,113,000 foreigners of more than 200 nationalities work in the UAE.

“We are standardising housing facilities and accommodation for labourers across the country. We are also supervising them to ensure facilities meet our stringent standards.”

The government said it has moved to provide workers with adequate housing and health insurance, and resolve labour disputes and combat trafficking. “There are many areas we can build on and areas like labour, work will always be in progress. But in the past 18 months, we have done very well on the criticisms we have received,” he said.

After Gargash meets with the three representatives, they will report back to the larger working group, comprising representatives from the countries currently under review. In March, the reports from all 16 countries will go to the full council at the UN.

The UN official stressed that all countries have the same opportunity to discuss their human rights record: every country will undergo the same three-hour review session by representatives from three other countries. He also emphasised that the process is meant to be collaborative so that governments have the resources to make changes. On Tuesday, Burundi, a country emerging from a long conflict, underwent review. “They needed help. Many states heeded that call. This is not just a body where states will be condemned, but there is also a cooperative mechanism.”

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