Understanding UAE law: Female victims’ rights

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Did you know that you could be deported from the UAE for being caught kissing in public or for flashing a middle finger at someone? These are some of the little-known areas of law that a new weekly question-and-answer series aims to throw the spotlight on.

Yousef Al Bahar, advocate at Al Bahar & Associates Advocates and Legal Consultants, answers questions about the UAE legal system.

What should a woman do if she is the victim of rape or sexual harassment? Does she go to the police or to her country’s consulate? What are her rights?

Harassing a woman is punishable by law. A woman who is a victim of sexual harassment or rape must immediately file a report with police. She would not be arrested as she is the victim in this case. Harassment includes actions punishable by law such as touching a woman’s hand, shoulder or back, or her private parts, without her consent. But should an investigation show that the woman consensually took part in any obscene activity with the man she has accused of sexual harassment, and proof of this is provided, then both parties would be accused of engaging in consensual illegal intercourse. The woman would be charged with enabling the man to have sexual relations with her by committing an obscenity, whether touching or kissing or adultery. The man would be charged with having consensual sexual relations with the woman and, in this situation, they would be referred to the Court of Misdemeanours and not the Criminal Court. Should it be proven that the woman did not give her consent to any sexual act of any kind with the man in question, the defendant would be referred to the Criminal Court and authorities would cooperate with the victim to offer her any assistance she needed. In some cases, women are sent to the Dubai Foundation for Women until they can rejoin their families.

Are people prosecuted according to their religions? Are Muslims, for instance, prosecuted according to Sharia law?

The law applies to all people residing in the UAE, whether Emirati or expatriate, Muslim or non-Muslim. Once a law is published in the Official Gazette, any claims about ignorance of the law due to illness, absence or religious affiliation would not stand up in a court of law. This principle applies to public and private law and to all laws, regardless of their origin: legislation, custom or Sharia. No resident of the UAE should expect that Sharia rules do not apply to them because they are not aware of them. The only exception to this is matters related to the personal status law, where people are prosecuted according to their home country’s law or their religion’s law, as long as they haven’t committed an infraction on public order or ethics.

Do I have to turn over my passport or Emirates ID to police?

Only if you are facing charges in a criminal case and if the police or prosecutor agree to release you on bail. In this case, you will need to hand over your passport as well as a guarantee, usually a financial one set by the prosecutor’s office or a judge. You do not have to submit your passport in any other situation.

* If you have a question for our lawyer, please email it to newsdesk@thenational.ae with the subject line “Know the law”.