UN rights monitors invited to visit UAE

Fact-finding missions by two special rapporteurs will include consultations with officials on combating human trafficking.

Githu Muigai, a special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia will arrive in the UAE next week.
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ABU DHABI // Two human rights experts will in the coming weeks assess the levels of racism and child protection in the country, at the invitation of the Government. The trips mark the first official visits to the UAE by UN monitors known as "special rapporteurs". Githu Muigai, the rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, is due to arrive next week for what he has described as a "fact-finding" visit. The rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat M'jid Maalla, is expected from October 12 to 18.

Until now, none of the UN's 30 independent human-rights experts or working groups that constitute the special rapporteurs have worked in the UAE. But this year, the Government invited the two experts to assess the human-rights situation directly. Dr Abdul Rahim al Awadi, the assistant for legal affairs and international organisations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement that the Government viewed the visits as "part of the collective international mechanism to fulfil the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". He continued: "The country promotes and develops concepts of human rights, specifically with regards to the prevention of discrimination in terms of either legislations or practices in different sectors.

"As for the rapporteurs' visit to prevent trafficking in children, the UAE is one of the first in the region to introduce legislation and criminalise trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The country's responsibility is not just considered part of the country's international obligations but is part of our religious values and customs." Ms M'jid Maalla said her trip was aimed at identifying "good practices" as well as some of the challenges that the UAE faced in child protection. She said in an e-mail that she would be focusing on "incidence of sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography", including commercial sexual exploitation, "but, also more generally, to examine the situation of vulnerable children, and the child protection system in general". She plans to meet with children as well as a variety of representatives including those from the Ministries of Health, Interior and Education, with the General Women's Union and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

Mr Muigai, a Kenyan human-rights lawyer who was appointed to the UN post in August 2008, plans to travel to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah between October 4 and 8 and to meet officials from the Ministries of Interior, Justice, Labour and Foreign Affairs. He is also scheduled to meet representatives from several bodies including the Federal National Council, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking and Dubai Police. Ms M'jid Maalla, a paediatrician from Morocco, was appointed to the three-year special rapporteur post in May 2008. She has been involved deeply with child protection issues in Morocco, including trafficking, violence, sexual exploitation and child homelessness. Visits by special rapporteurs take place only on the invitation of the states in question, although the invitations can be requested by the experts themselves. The invitations to Ms M'jid Maalla and Mr Muigai were announced in March by Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign and FNC Affairs, during the country's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UAE is not the first country in the Gulf region to receive UN monitors. The special rapporteur on trafficking in persons visited Oman and Qatar in 2006, and in 2008 the special rapporteur on violence against women travelled to Saudi Arabia. zconstantine@thenational.ae