The United Arab Emirates has been elected as a full member of the UN Human Rights Council for the third time in its history, having served on the commission from 2013 to 2018. This time, its membership was won by a total of 180 votes from countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The consultation, held on Thursday among the members of the UN General Assembly by secret ballot, rewarded the Emirati diplomatic efforts to be recognised as a guarantor of human rights and highlighted the country's strategic weight within the United Nations, as well as its fertile links within the organisation.
Although the statutes prevent states from being re-elected immediately after serving two consecutive mandates, the new Emirati authority will begin to be visible from next year and will extend until 2024, thus reaching the stipulated maximum term of three years. During this time, he will share space with 47 other countries that make up the commission.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed's chief diplomatic adviser and head of the National Human Rights Committee, Anwar Gargash, said the UAE's record "is not limited to the protection and promotion of political, economic and social rights, but also encompasses the state's successful model in areas such as women's empowerment, religious and ethnic tolerance, the judicial system, labour rights, combating human trafficking and other key related issues".
According to Gargash, Emirati society is based "on fundamental values such as balance and support for justice, where more than 200 nationalities coexist side by side and enjoy the freedom to practice their civil rights under an efficient judicial system that ranks first in the region according to relevant international indices".
In this regard, President Khalifa bin Zayed issued federal legislation in August to establish an independent body to promote the defence of human rights and to educate the public on the subject through seminars, conferences and roundtables. In doing so, the sheikh began preparations for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution in the Gulf state, to be based in Abu Dhabi.
Its functions will include providing information to the authorities on whether national laws are in line with the international human rights treaties and conventions to which the Emirates is a signatory. The body is also supposed to monitor compliance with inherent human freedoms on Emirati soil.
The body has a backlog of work to do before it gets underway. Human rights violations in the Gulf monarchy have been a constant since its foundation. In fact, the latest controversy erupted a few weeks ago, when several members of the European Parliament called for a boycott of the Dubai 2020 Expo and condemned the alleged persecution of dissidents imprisoned in the country, such as Ahmed Mansoor, Mohammed al-Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith.
The UAE prevents political opposition and silences all dissent, says Amnesty International. The latest crackdown on the regime led to a mass trial of some 100 defendants, 69 of whom were sentenced to between five and seven years in the notorious UAE 94. The US State Department reports cases of torture, arbitrary detention, restrictions on freedom of expression, and the lack of free elections, among others.
As if this were not enough, the UK High Court of Justice ruled in March against the head of the Emirati government, 'de facto' executive leader Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for organising the expulsion of his daughter Shamsa from the UK at the turn of the century and the subsequent detention of his other daughter, Latifa, during a maritime raid as she tried to escape from the royal family in 2018.
Between 20,000 and 100,000 Emirati-born people lack citizenship permits and are therefore unable to access the rights recognised by the state on an equal footing. This results in systemic neglect that translates into a lack of healthcare, subsidised housing and higher education, or access to public sector jobs, Amnesty International warns.
Human Rights Watch says that over the past year, the UAE has spent billions of euros "on its soft power strategy, aimed at painting the country as a progressive, tolerant and rights-respecting nation". A campaign from which it has emerged successful and ultimately reinforced by the United Nations.