United Arab Emirates

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates. The seven emirate rulers constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. In 2004 the council selected Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi Emirate, as head of state for a five-year term. There are no democratically elected legislative institutions, political parties, or general elections. The judiciary lacked full independence. Arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained problems. The government limited civil liberties such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. Trafficking in persons continued, and some women and foreign workers faced discrimination and abuse.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States promotes democracy and human rights in the country by working to broaden political participation, develop a vibrant civil society and NGO community equipped to protect civil liberties and monitor human rights conditions, promote women's empowerment, encourage government transparency, support the rule of law and legal accountability for crimes, and pursue greater judicial independence. The U.S. Government seeks to contribute to the development of a free press and to bolster the media's professionalism and ability to pursue independent stories, rather than relying on wire services or officially sanctioned government sources. The U.S. Government also strives to combat trafficking in persons and to improve the human rights situation for the more than 80 percent of the population who are noncitizens, many of whom are unskilled foreign laborers.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States supports democracy objectives by working bilaterally with the government on numerous issues. The U.S. Government seeks to advance the development of responsible democracy by promoting better understanding of democratic governance, free enterprise, and individual responsibility in a free society. The embassy encourages the government to build on its measured progress toward more representative governance, including fulfilling its commitment to expand the electorate (which currently selects 20 of the 40 members of the Federal National Council) to include all citizens and transforming the Federal National Council into a more independent legislative body. In addition, the United States continually urges the government to provide a greater role for civil society. U.S. officials engage their government counterparts on the values of freedom of assembly and association to support the rights of the large and vulnerable foreign labor force, as well as to expand awareness of trafficking in persons, encourage prosecution of violators of the antitrafficking law, and assist victims. The U.S. Government aggressively combats trafficking in persons by working with government contacts, other diplomatic missions, private activists, and international NGOs and by funding training programs for judges to assist them in applying relevant laws. U.S. officials engage with other like-minded democratic allies and encourage them to raise human rights and democracy concerns with the government.

During the U.S. election campaign in 2008, the mission conducted extensive outreach to diverse audiences in the country to highlight the merits of democratic selection of our national leadership. The mission engaged university and high school students on topics related to democracy and hosted (together with local civil society organizations) video conferences for journalists, students, and others to interact with experts at both national political conventions in the United States. Seminars on different aspects of democracy--including civic participation and the role of women in politics--were featured during the campaign, and the mission hosted outreach events on election day and inauguration day.

The U.S. Government discusses human rights with the UAE government, both in general terms and specific cases. The U.S. Government engages organizations and individuals with nonofficial views and information to shed light on the human rights situation in the country, including the lack of civil liberties. The U.S. Government offers resources and access to expertise and training through U.S.-funded programs, which foster greater public awareness of the value of a viable NGO community and public monitoring of human rights, an area of increasing importance for the UAE government following revelations about a member of the ruling family's involvement in a videotaped incident of abuse. The U.S. Government directs concrete assistance through local partners to cultivate conditions favorable to democratic reform. Ongoing U.S.-funded programs expand the role of youth in decision-making by facilitating student council elections at local universities, help journalists strengthen independent reporting skills and overcome self-censorship through training, and assist editors in building investigative capabilities and professionalism. Since 2006 the embassy has facilitated local journalists' engagement with U.S. media law experts, who helped support their efforts to propose draft amendments to a press law that remains under government review. U.S. civil society programs also focus on women's empowerment in a society that has made great strides toward promoting women into senior positions yet continues to suffer from a lack of female participation in public policy decision-making. U.S. officials engage and assist female leaders on a wide range of topics with a focus on developing their leadership skills and sense of social responsibility.

From university student discussion groups to formal educator training programs, U.S. officials work directly with the country's citizens and residents, especially through secondary schools and universities, to promote skills and ideas necessary to pursue and sustain transparent governance. This effort includes "microscholarships" for English language instruction, virtual clubs, educational advising, and two American Corners (community-based information and outreach centers). The United States encourages a broader discussion of political freedoms through student exchanges, dialogue on ethnic and religious tolerance, and energetic promotion of the pursuit of higher education at U.S. institutions or U.S.-affiliated institutions in the country. In addition, the United States seeks to encourage a trend towards participatory governance in the future by promoting a more vigorous discussion of democracy in updated civics curricula and facilitating student polling of citizens' views regarding democracy and civic activism.