United Arab Emirates
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.
Nepotism and conflict of interest in government appointments and contract allocations existed. The Ministries of Interior and Justice and the state audit institutions are responsible for combating government corruption.
Corruption: In July, four Ministry of Interior employees (three Emiratis and one Indian) were arrested on corruption charges for using confidential information to blackmail persons, threatening to add their victims’ names to the police wanted list if they did not pay. In the past, authorities also prosecuted cases of police corruption.
Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct requiring officials to disclose their income and assets. The operating instructions for the FNC elections require all candidates to disclose sources of funding for their campaigns.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. In March a Ras al-Khaimah court sentenced an Asian man to death after convicting him of raping his 14-year-old daughter. The penal code does not address spousal rape.
Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. In some cases, police shared a victim’s contact information with her or his family, which sometimes reached the assailant.
In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. In addition, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex outside marriage instead of receiving assistance from authorities.
Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.
The government, in coordination with social organizations, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and sponsoring a hotline. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children in Ras al-Khaimah also maintains a hotline for domestic abuse victims.
In November 2019 the cabinet passed the Family Protection Policy to address domestic violence concerns. The directive aims to raise awareness of domestic abuse, train staff in detection and intervention, strengthen information sharing across institutions working to combat domestic violence, and establish a standardized system to report incidents of domestic violence. As part of the policy, authorities introduced restraining orders and new prison terms for domestic violence, including maximum six-month sentences. According to the Ministry of Community Development, the policy was to be implemented over the next three years.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. FGM/C is practiced by some tribal groups and was reportedly declining as a traditional custom, yet little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.
Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. In November the president amended the code to expand the legal definition of sexual harassment to include repetitive harassment through action, words, or signs. The amendment also acknowledges that men could be victims of sexual harassment. Article 359 stipulates that acts of sexual harassment shall be punished by a prison term of at least one year, a minimum fine of at least 10,000 AED (2,720), or both. If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it is to include a prison term followed by deportation.
Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
While reproductive health care is available to all, it is more challenging to access for unmarried and noncitizen women who represent a significant majority of the female population. Additionally, there are restrictions to health-care access based on health insurance. Although the government provides free health care to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens, insurance plans for unskilled laborers often do not offer prenatal or antenatal care, and the government did not provide free antenatal care for noncitizen pregnant women. Expatriates with no health insurance benefits may visit public hospitals for a fee.
The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage, and authorities typically arrested and deported unmarried noncitizen workers who become pregnant. Reforms to these laws have been announced but not yet fully enacted. Privacy rights remain a problem as health authorities share information that has led to the arrests of unmarried noncitizens who became pregnant. Hospitals did not issue birth certificates to children born to unmarried parents, making it difficult for a child to remain in the country or to obtain a passport. Access to limited pharmacological contraception options is available only through medical prescription. Oral contraceptive prescriptions are legal for single women as treatment for menstrual issues. Most health insurance plans do not cover insertion and removal of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.
While female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is banned in government hospitals, private clinics and ritual/traditional circumcisers continued to perform it. The type of FGM most prevalent in the country was performed during infancy and childhood.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage.
The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives, women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter. Legal reforms in 2019 allow women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband. In 2019 the government began allowing women to be head of household.
For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not provided for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. In September the Federal Supreme Court refused to grant a woman a divorce, stating it was not permissible for a woman to ask for a divorce without reason or evidence of the husband’s maltreatment.
The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts applied the “the best interests of the child” standard. According to federal law, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach 13 years of age and sons 11 years of age. Women are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law, fathers are permitted to seek custody of a son younger than age 11 if they feel the child has become “too soft.”
The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women who bear children out of wedlock. In November 2019 Dubai authorities charged a Filipina woman with having sex out of wedlock after she was caught disposing of the body of a stillborn infant.
While education is equally accessible, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials, local women represented more than 70 percent of national higher education students.
The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses, because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.
The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, working outside the home. In 2019 the local Arabic-language newspaper al-Bayan reported that Emirati women occupied 66 percent of public-sector jobs, of which 30 percent held leadership and decision-making positions. The article also reported that 21,000 Emirati women were business owners and that Emirati women represented 72 percent of the total citizens working in the banking sector, although only 12 percent held leadership positions.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law neither provides for the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively nor permits workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public-sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, formerly the Labor Ministry, must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to public-sector employees, agricultural workers, or most workers in export processing zones. Domestic workers fall under a separate labor law but are regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.
Private-sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public-sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.
All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Reports on the length of administrative procedures varied, with some workers citing both speedy and delayed processes. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year, any foreign worker on a work-sponsored residency visa for unexcused absences of more than seven consecutive days or for participating in a strike. While the law does not explicitly delineate labor strikes as grounds for deportation, the law prohibits unauthorized demonstrations or the expression of opinions deemed false, incitant, or hurtful to the country’s public image.
Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, and religious-related issues.
The government generally enforced labor laws. Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related issues, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.
In Dubai the CDA regulates and provides licensing services to nonprofit civil society organizations and associations that organize ongoing social, cultural, artistic, or entertainment activities. In Dubai all voluntary organizations and individual volunteers are required to register with the CDA within six months. In addition, all voluntary activities require a CDA permit, but there are no prescribed penalties for noncompliance.
Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.
The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from expressing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. In response to the government-mandated closing of many businesses as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the government changed employment contract regulations to give employers the ability to reduce wages or place workers on unpaid leave with the workers’ consent. There were instances of employers exploiting these changes illegally to reduce salaries or furlough workers without their consent.