‘Mutual Praise Society’ case study

Celebrating UAE's improved human rights record

The Universal Periodic Review process has been recently hailed as “the most important instrument for the protection of human rights” because of its integral focus on cooperation. This commitment to universal cooperation, however, has fostered idealistic presentations of human rights records and country feedback based on partisan divides. The flawed process is best epitomized by yesterday’s UPR of the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates boasts a strong record of human rights abuses: the continued disempowerment of women, forceful bans on freedom of expression, and a broken judicial system targeting their government critics and civil liberties defenders. Following calls by three NGOs  for greater democracy within the UAE, the country responded by disbanding the organizations’ boards.

Even so, the UAE was calmly at ease before their UPR hearing, audaciously using the media to highlight the supposed new safeguards for their disempowered citizens. Press articles promised that the UPR will highlight UAE’s “impressive human rights record.”

The Universal Period Review process more aptly functions as a Mutual Praise Society. Although the US, Italy, and Ireland voiced their concerns, the UAE was continually commended for its religious tolerance, progressive record of labor rights, and improvements in the plight of human trafficking victims.

  • Iraq: “We highly value the efforts made to prepare the report which testifies to the Emirates determination to move forward with its commendable achievement in the field of human rights and its firm will to promote human rights on the ground and in all spheres.”
  • Cuba: “Cuba would like to applaud the sustained way in which the UAE is making headway in the promotion and protection of human rights. An example of this has been its commitments to the UPR process and the Human Rights Council, which is reflected in the detailed information provided in the report.”
  • Libya: “A number of policies have been adopted based on best practices and international standards to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let me mention the promotion of the rights rights of child, women’s rights, combatting trafficking in human beings, protecting the rights of workers and the right to decent pay and good housing, and the national strategies developed to raise the level of education.”
  • China: “We like to commend and congratulate the UAE on its most recent achievements in the field of human rights, including its commitment to the empowerment of women, protection of the rights the disabled, children, and the elderly, and its growing investments in health, education, and social protection, and its successful efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers.”
  • Palestine: “State of Palestine greatly values all the efforts made by the UAE to enhance human rights in a number of fields like the the rights of women, combatting racial discrimination, the right to education, and others.”

The successful UPR concluded with a kind invitation to celebrate the UAE’s improved human rights record at a reception outside. Delegates from Cuba, Libya, China, Iraq, and Sudan were undoubtedly happy to drink tea to the UAE’s “success story.”

UN Watch

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