United Arab Emirates: Minority Rights Saskia Kusnecov



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United Arab Emirates: Minority Rights

Saskia Kusnecov

The concern for minority rights surfaced from the realization of the horrors from the Holocaust, when the intolerance of minority populations became apparent. The Secretary General has said that "The United Nations work to promote intolerance is fundamental to both conflict prevention and peace building. Without tolerance, our work on development and good governance would achieve little"1. The protection of minority rights in multi-ethnical countries is achieved through constant monitoring and official declaration of the rights pertaining to minority bodies. The UN developed an official document in 1992 that listed these rights, called the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities1. This document is the only one specifically addressing these rights, and is regarded as a document for international communities. One of the most important rights stemming out of beliefs solidified in the early formations of most countries is the right to liberally enjoy your own culture in the country you reside. The UN also encouraged countries to develop national policies and documents with regard to minorities. It is recognized that countries that are extremely diverse in their ethical makeup may have a predetermined social/religious, governmental, and economic system that contradict the policies the UN is encouraging. Simultaneously, as of the release of this document listing the inherent rights of minorities, any persisting discrimination will not be tolerated. Minority rights continued to be an issue for countries that were so diverse in their ethnical makeup that they did not feel obliged to alleviate discrimination. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) meets twice a year to review state party reports as well as observations by various NGO’s shadowing minority populations’ statuses, and in a conference held in 2000 they addressed the persisting discrimination in such countries. These countries were then asked by the committee to describe the status and conditions of their ethnical variations and any legislative, judicial, or administrative measures being taken to address minority populations existing. They encouraged the countries to come to terms with any underlying problems on this issue, because it’s a long standing belief in the UN that racial discrimination exists in all states and territories. This can only be dealt with accordingly if it is properly addressed and acknowledged. This issue was extended over two sessions that year.

The General Assembly United Nations has also approached this issue in small increments, its most recent progression being resolution A/61/L.672, which addresses the rights of indigenous peoples. The document was written in September 2007 and recognizes the rights of indigenous cultures to their lands of origin, acknowledges that countries are inherently rich in cultural diversity and customs, and that everyone contributes to the proper management of community and environment as a whole. The document addresses the issues that recently surfaced in the case of the Peruvian indigenous protests, in which the Amazonians retaliated against the Peruvian’s government’s attempts to use their land for oil investment. The premeditated necessity of this document addressing indigenous rights is a progressive move on behalf of the United Nations, and they should continue making specific, detailed increments to full approach the issue of minority rights. This is especially important when you consider that other than these two documents, the first which addresses minorities as a whole and the second a commonly known oppressed peoples, minority rights in the United Nations is not a to concern.

The Legal branch of the UN has given minority rights no specific reference, but in the 63rd session held in 2007, an relevant agenda item was the importance of having a nationality in which Iran made a statement.3 The right to a nationality is an item of concern that the sixth committee was able to address in full in this session, and can easily segue into addressing the oppression of minorities who are denied the right to a nationality and/ or freedom of cultural practice or religion. Discrimination has been suppressed by legal documentation and intervention in the past, and as a UN belief that acknowledging it is the first step to alleviating a problem, legal intervention should be the means to addressing minority oppression and discrimination. When taking this issue into account, it should be recognized that in countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), addressing rights to minority bodies is not only an issue of discrimination, but also national protection.

The UAE’s minority population consists of 85% Sunni and 15% Shi’a (Out of the total minority population), and it is well known that a large percentage of UAE’s standard population are expatriates made up of non-Emirate Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and other South Asians4. The expatriate body tends to socialize amongst themselves, and are often denied full civic rights. They are subject to expulsion from the territory once their sponsorship has ended or employment is terminated. The expatriate body makes up over 80% of the UAE population, yet they are still denied freedom of association for fear of conspiracy— a daunting fear of the UAE because of its neighboring countries.

Also a result of this fear, the Shiites are limited in their liberties. Being the largest body of minorities that has citizenry, they are allowed to conduct their own religious practices, run their own mosques, and head their own court system for family cases supervised by UAE government. They are limited in their power in the nation’s politics and are not permitted to serve in governmental positions with authority. 4

The once booming economy began its steady decline in 2009, and it was suspected that the overzealous population of illegal immigrants was partially to blame. So in efforts to ameliorate the issue, the UAE began deporting illegal immigrants little by little. The strategic deportation of expatriates was a valid effort to improve the UAE’s economy; the abrupt deportation of an entire body of Shiite resident is questionable.

In October 2009, Lebanese Shiites were expelled from the nation for suspected affiliation with the Hizballah. Allegedly, the Shiites were asked by UAE officials to “spy” on the Hizaballah, and when they refused they were informed of their prompt deportation. These people were not illegal; for example, Hussein Masood, a 39-year old resident had lived in the UAE since he was four years old, had three companies situated in the land, 5 million dollars worth of contracts, and a large body of Sunni employees. He was deported, among hundreds of others just like him, simply because he was Shiite5.

No explanation was given to any Lebanese Shiite that was asked to leave, but ultimately what it comes down to is preserving the UAE’s economy and political safety. The Shiites were the largest body that supported resistance, and as a result they were seen as the largest threat in the face of foreign affairs6. Iran has been in possession of three islands on the Gulf of the UAE, and the representative minister of foreign affairs stressed the importance of regaining ownership of these islands in his most recent speech in the United Nations: “…I would like to reiterate our firm position demanding the full restoration of our full sovereignty over the three occupied islands and their territorial waters, airspace, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. The islands are part and parcel of our national sovereignty.”7

In such a politically volatile area, the UAE has minority rights as an issue concurrent with national safety. When the expulsion of the Shiite body was enacted, the UAE was acting on a national safety concern, and when deciding the civil and political rights of minorities in countries around the world, it is necessary to address their contribution to the preservation of national protection.

A proposition to amend the issue of minority rights is to approach it in not only a humanitarian way, but in a way to ensure political preservation. Minority expatriates from countries in political turmoil such as Iran, Israel, Lebanon, etc, are guaranteed a lifetime of fear and confusion. This coincides with the host country’s unsettling feelings about housing expatriates. The inconsistency between the expatriate body and legislative forces leads to a lack of civil rights and a harder time gaining citizenship for expatriates. A trust is unable to be fostered, and results in an inevitable conflict such as the Shiites being exiled or Lebanese expatriates being denied the right to vote in their countries of residence8.

This resembles a time in America when states were reapplying for a position in the Union after the Civil War. They were required to take an Oath of Allegiance and acknowledge the abolition of slavery. These requirements represent the Union’s attempts to asses the state’s loyalty and the level of trust they could foster in them, because a solid promise to remain loyal to the Union and the institution of slavery were the roots of initial conflict between Confederate states and the Union.

From this we can draw that it could be beneficial for expatriates to take a variation of an Oath of loyalty to the country they seek permanent residence in. In countries with volatile neighbours especially, a trust must be fostered to ensure full political equality and civil rights. The individual expatriate must acknowledge the issues ensuing in their chosen country, such as the unstable economy in the UAE and the fact that many of their minorities are illegal, and with such acknowledgment they will make a vow to contribute something to the preservation of said country. The lenient policy of Lincoln previously mentioned in his Oath of Allegiance may not be one to emulate given the violence and corruption occurring in countries most expatriates escape from. False and cruel intentions are not uncommon, but cannot be presupposed in every expatriate applying for citizenship and protection in another country. It is a duel responsibility on the parts of federal government and minority citizens to establish good relations so that the country can progress.

The countries’ federal governments should also carefully screen every minority body to ensure that they are legally entering (based on citizenship requirements), because in the case of the Shiites and also minority bodies in America, illegal persons are being deported when discovered. Many of these persons have already fostered families, careers, futures- to suddenly filch the rights they had the day before is inhumane, regardless of legal requirements. When these persisting cases of illegal immigrants do arise, they should be dealt with rationally, and it should be ensured that the well being of the illegal families is not cast into a vulnerable position after they are exposed.

The metaphorical wheel of labour that keeps countries going- the blue collar workers that lay the foundations for societies- are made up largely of minorities. This seems to be diminishing in the UAE because of their efforts to minimize illegal employment- resulting in a large percentage of unemployment. 9 As previously mentioned, illegal or legal, minorities have fostered positions in society and when they are usurped by federal forces, it jeopardizes civil rights and preservation. The minority bodies must be guaranteed equal protection under the law to ensure that their contributions are not gone unheard or unseen.

In democratic countries such as the US, minorities are guaranteed rights specifically by the Constitution or documented clauses by governments. The following is an excerpt from Principles of Democracy, published by the US Department of State: “Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and self-identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country's democratic institutions.”10

While it is recognized that not all countries hold democratic institutions, it must be reiterated that it is necessary to recognize that there must be a trust between government and minority body to ensure peaceful and progressive relations amongst a country’s members. The rights attributed to a minority must be specified as equal in pen, to make certain that the minority body understands their duties as inhabitants of said country, but also so that the federal government recognizes their civil rights and due protection under the law as inhabitants.

When addressing the all-inclusive issue of minority rights, the UAE reiterates its position in equal protection under the law (in writing) to the minority, good relations between government and minority body to ensure national safety, and expatriates being admitted to housing countries must be carefully screened to prevent any future issues concerning illegal residency. Minorities must have a specific position in countries’ federal constitutions and not endure and false accusations based on previous residency. It’s important for the legal committee to step up in this field because what minorities do not have in many cases is the documentation to refer to when they are denied their rights. The General Assembly has started the cause with it’s resolution A/61/ L.67 on indigenous rights, and now it is up to the legal committee to follow through with a solid expansion on minority rights. In doing this, humanity is given a universal chance for equality, if only in a small package of civil liberties for Hussein Masood5.

Works Cited (Superscript references)



  1. http://www.un.org/WCAR/e-kit/minority.htm

  2. http://www.minorityrights.org/2663/international-instruments/united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html

  3. http://www.un.org/ga/sixth/63/NatPers.shtml

  4. http://www.minorityrights.org/4310/united-arab-emirates/united-arab-emirates-overview.html

  5. http://lebanon.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2009/10/01/hundreds-of-lebanese-shiites-expelled-from-uae/

  6. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/lebanon/091030/uae-iran-shiites-lebanon

  7. http://www.un.int/uae/MinisterE63.html

  8. http://nowlebanon.com/NewsArchiveDetails.aspx?ID=140326

  9. http://www.aqoul.com/archives/2006/05/census_and_sens.php

  10. http://www.america.gov/st/democracy-english/2008/May/20080609194934eaifas0.5346796.html



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