The UAE federal government and those of the seven individual emirates have recently expanded the enforcement of anti-human trafficking laws. According to preliminary reports, at least 10 human trafficking-related cases were registered by the end of 2007 under the clauses of Federal Law 51, which came into effect in November 2006. Notably, there were also convictions in at least five cases during this period, with the convicted receiving jail terms ranging from three to 10 years for committing aiding or abetting human trafficking.
With these initial results, the UAE is working harder to gather and deploy the necessary manpower to efficiently increase the number of anti-human trafficking prosecutions. As part of a comprehensive awareness campaign to enhance public and law enforcement knowledge about this crime and explore ways of limiting it, workshops are being conducted by the UAE National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking in cooperation with various law enforcement departments and ministries. These workshops are attended by the relevant departments of naturalization and residency, police and prosecution.
- A workshop on investigating human trafficking crimes was jointly organized by Dubai Police and a British security services firm in March 2007
- Coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2007, the Committee announced a detailed schedule of law enforcement capacity building exercises. Two workshops were held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai during December in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice. One of them, a workshop on human trafficking crimes, was conducted in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins University, United States, to improve legislation in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and discuss joint efforts to combat the crime regionally
- In collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, a lecture about the relationship between human trafficking and security was held in January 2008
- A five-day training program on human rights and law enforcement was conducted in January 2008 for law enforcement officers
- A training program on prevention and control of human trafficking took place in February 2008, and another on investigation methodology is scheduled to be held later this year
- A data collection methodology has been finalized to establish a central database for UAE law enforcement officers
- Several Emirati law graduates have been selected to undergo special training courses to gain insight into laws dealing with cyber and organized crimes, terrorist activities, human trafficking and human rights issues.
The UAE also utilizes its established travel and immigration monitoring system to identify potential human trafficking crimes. This system depends on:
- Federal Law No. 6 of 1973 and its amendments, which pertain to the entry and residence of foreigners in the country
- Procedures taken to control the country's points of entry include:
- Not granting entry permits to children from some countries if their names are added on their parents’ or relatives’ passports because they are susceptible to abuse. The UAE insists on such children having separate passports and separate entry visas to ensure compliance with the regulations and to enable immigration officers to identify the children during entry and also ensure that they return home with their parents and relatives
- Controlling the re-entry of deported expatriates through the Iris eye scan technology
- Limiting large numbers of visit visas to relatives and friends of expatriates residing in the country in order to ensure against possible misuse of such privileges.
The UAE National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking is engaged in planning a nation-wide public awareness strategy on this issue in order to foster a partnership with both the public and the media. A number of cases are often brought to the attention of law enforcement agencies through the public and this avenue of partnership will be developed and expanded in the next two years. Further, collaboration with foreign embassies and NGOs will aim to highlight the issue in the labor-exporting countries in order to prevent trafficking at its source by creating greater awareness.
The UAE seeks to decrease the demand on the sex industry and clamp down on perpetrators of forced or exploitative labor. Article 34 of the UAE Constitution, for example, states that no human being should be enslaved or forced to work against their will. This article has been the foundation of the UAE penal law, which takes action against cases related to human exploitation. This intention is also in line with the Palermo Protocol, which is the first binding international instrument that mentions the need to tackle the demand for sexual and other forms of exploitation. According to Article 9.5 of the protocol, all “States Parties shall adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.”>
In the UAE, police are keeping a vigil on tourist companies which bring women into the country. In fact, there are restrictions and re-checking on the entry into the country of single women less than 30 years old who are more likely to be victims of trafficking. The licenses of companies caught carrying out illegal activities are being cancelled. At least two nightclubs exploiting women were shut down during 2007 and several others are under constant surveillance for any trace of illegal activity.
Moreover, the UAE has realized that a proactive policy of improving labor standards and regulations overall will have a positive impact on decreasing the scale of human trafficking and potential exploitative issues. As a result, the government has introduced a series of measures that are beginning to positively impact the country’s labor climate. Stricter laws against human trafficking and unskilled worker-friendly regulations, which are crucial to discourage exploitation, are increasingly being put in place. Some of the recent worker-friendly measures include:
- Starting January 2008, salary payments to unskilled workers in the country are being deposited electronically by their respective companies. The Electronic Wage Payment System will put an end to cash payment of salaries. This will ensure that monthly wages are paid to all employees without fail and on time, giving the government to have real time access to information regarding payments of salaries. Punitive action against companies exploiting workers and abusing their rights is expected to become easier and effective. Around 250,000 construction workers are already benefiting from this system, and many more are likely to be positively impacted by this.
- Improving working and living conditions – the UAE has prohibited work in open labor sites during the midday hours during summer. For each violation of this provision, companies are fined 30,000 dirhams (US$ 8,000) and banned from receiving additional contracts for three months. Further, no group labor permits (for 25 or more workers) are processed until applicants demonstrate a tangible commitment to adequate housing for workers. Companies must produce evidence that they actually have plans and resources to provide facilities. Several camps housing migrant workers employed in the construction sector – which were found to fall short of minimum standards in building, health services, waste disposal, pest control, drinking water and other basic facilities – have been closed. The firms that own or run the camps have been given adequate time to provide replacement accommodation that meets international health and safety standards.
- A new unified contract to regulate the rights and duties of domestic workers was enforced in April 2007. Some of its features are:
- Valid for two years
- Three copies of contract in Arabic and English, with each party having one and a third with the Residency Department
- A month’s paid leave in two years and medical aid provision
- Unit at Residency Department to arbitrate disputes
- One-way ticket at end of contract – if the contract is ended by the sponsor before its expiry, a ticket and a month’s salary shall be paid to the worker. If it is ended by the worker, he or she will be charged for the ticket
- Employer to facilitate contact with their families back home
- Disputes not settled within two weeks to be referred to courts
- Worker’s legal rights disregarded if he or she absconds
- Fees charged by recruiting agencies to be checked through coordination with consulates of labor-exporting countries
- In case of death of the domestic worker, employer responsible to repatriate the body of the deceased and personal belongings
- Heavy fines of up to 50,000 dirhams (US$14,000) for hiring illegal domestic maids.
- A new labor law to cover domestic workers is being drafted under the supervision of the Cabinet. Domestic workers are mostly comprised of women and vulnerable to exploitation, which is a key concern of the UAE as part of its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
- Since January 2008, sponsors of housemaids in Dubai who facilitate maids from carrying out illegal work will be charged with the crime of human trafficking and face 10 years in jail or more. Previously, sponsors who released their housemaids for a fee to carry out jobs illegally were charged with the crime of selling visit/residence visas.
- Allowing workers to transfer sponsorships to facilitate job movement.
- Setting up of special labor courts for speedy resolution of cases. Together with the labor courts, the government has taken the initiative to establish a representative office located within the courts to act as a liaison point and facilitate the process of solving disputes.
- Direct government involvement in negotiations to increase salaries of workers in some sectors.
The UAE intends to do more as demonstrated in the successful launch of the “Abu Dhabi Dialogue on Temporary Contractual Labor” in January 2008. The conference brought together ministers from 22 countries, including the 11 nations which supply the flow of migratory labor, and the GCC countries that contract with this labor force. Also present were representatives from international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM, which co-facilitated the effort with the UAE Ministry of Labor), the International Labor Organization, and a number of United Nations and regional labor groupings. By inviting representatives from affected countries of origin to face-to-face discussions, delegates were able to assess their “ground realities” and devise ways to eradicate the problem where it begins. Direct outreach to the workers themselves continues, with training resources to fully apprise them of their rights and means of recourse should they suspect those rights are being violated.