government: federation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: 2 December 1971; made permanent in 1996
legal system: based on a dual system of Shari'a and civil courts
legislative system: unicameral Federal National Council (Majlis al-Ittihad al-Watani)
judicial system: Union Supreme Court whose judges are appointed by the Head of State
religion: Muslim 96% (Shi'a 16%), other (includes Christian, Hindu) 4%
death row: at least 25 (up to the end of 2014, according to Amnesty International)
year of last executions: 6-12-2012
death sentences: 25
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty) (only signed)
The death penalty is rarely applied in the UAE, also because the law requires that a panel of three
judges agree on the decision of a sentence to death, which can be commuted if
the family of the victim forgives the murder, accepting financial compensation
for the crime. When a family accepts blood money, a court can jail a murderer
to a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years. In the UAE, the
standard blood money for causing someone’s death is 200,000 dirhams (about
Capital crimes under the constitution are: murder, rape, treason, aggravated
robbery, adultery and apostasy. Drug-trafficking, environmental pollution and
terrorism were later added as capital offences. Under a 1995 law, drug
traffickers in the UAE face the death penalty, although no executions are known
to have taken place.
The Federal Environment Law effective from February 1, 2000 provides the death
penalty and fines ranging from Dh1 million to Dh10 million for pollution both
on land and at sea.
On April 6, 2000, a Ras al-Khaimah sharia court ruled that anyone found guilty
of employing a magician to cast a spell on others will be sentenced to death
because the practice violates Islamic law and is therefore blasphemous.
Under Islamic Sharia law applied in the Gulf Arab state, a victim's family can
ask for the death penalty if the court finds the defendant guilty of murder.
The victim's family is also entitled to waive such a right and demand
"blood money" in its stead.
The execution is carried out in an undisclosed location by a firing squad that consists of nine men. At
least one is given a rifle loaded with a blank cartridge, so none of them knows
who fired the fatal shot. According to execution procedures, the families of
convicts on death row can visit them both during their imprisonment and on the
day of execution, but they are not allowed to witness the execution itself.
However, the victims' families may be allowed to witness the execution.
Representatives from the prosecution, Dubai Police, the director of the
correctional facility and a physician must be present when the sentence is
carried out. The death warrant must be read aloud by the director of the
correctional establishment or one of his nominees. A prosecution representative
will document any last words said by the convict, and the time of death.
Under the Maliki School of Islamic legal thought, officially adopted in UAE courts, a Muslim who
murders a non-Muslim cannot face execution. But the Court of Cassation, in a
precedent-setting decision, on 29 December 2010, ordered to treat the murder of
a non-Muslim the same as that of a Muslim, under an alternative Islamic school
of legal thought, Hanafi, which is the only Sunni school of jurisprudence that
calls for the death penalty if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim. Hanafi scholars
note that an Islamic text that prohibits the killing of a Muslim for taking a
non-Muslim life was meant to be applied only in times of war.
In the United Arab Emirates, stoning to death is a religiously stipulated punishment for adultery
under Sharia law, however it is rare for judges to hand this sentence down. In
the past, Emirati Criminal Courts have sentenced people convicted of adultery
to death by stoning, but these sentences have not yet been enforced. As per
Islamic Sharia law, a person may be convicted of adultery if a confession is
obtained, or if four people testify. However, getting pregnant as a result of
an affair outside wedlock is sufficient proof.
On July 28, 2004 the UAE enacted its first counter-terrorism law. The law
allows the death penalty for people convicted of setting up, participating in
or managing any group with the intention of committing terrorist acts. It
describes as "terrorism" any act that spreads terror or harms the
public or heads of states or government officials or seeks to destabilise the
general order of society. Imprisonment for life or shorter periods would be
passed on anyone guilty of aiding terrorist groups with funds, weapons or
shelter either inside or outside the UAE and anyone guilty of receiving
military or security training by terrorist groups.
On 14 December 2013, Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer, head of the Criminal Court of First Instance,
called for changes to legal procedures, including in cases which could lead to
the death penalty. Abdul Baseer said most murders were the result of fights and
could not be regarded as premeditated, so the family’s input was not necessary
for the case to proceed. Another issue he believes needs addressing involves
interrogation of suspected criminals by police officers. “We face problems from
a major mistake committed by some arrest policemen when they violate the law
and interrogate the defendant,” he said. “This is an invalid procedure legally
and it invalidates the entire case, even if the defendant confesses in court.”
On 29 January 2014, Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan issued a stay
on all execution in murder cases to give authorities the chance to contact the
victims’ blood parents, Gulf News reported on 5 February. “What the order is
trying to do is to settle such cases with the blood parents of the victims,” a
top official told Gulf News, adding that the order doesn’t include such cases
of terrorism, rape and drugs. There are dozens of inmates on death row in the
UAE, who may benefit from the order on the condition that authorities are able
to contact the victims’ blood parents. One official said that a committee was
formed by the Presidential Affairs Ministry to contact the blood parents of the
victims in order to settle the various cases. “It is a compassionate gesture by
the President to settle those cases and at the same time ensure justice is
served according to Islamic Sharia rules and the values of UAE society.” The
European Union Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,
Catherine Ashton, welcomed President Khalifa’s announcement. “I hope this will
constitute a first step towards the consideration of a definitive moratorium on
the use of the death penalty in the UAE,” she said in a statement on 7
February. The EU foreign policy chief said she also hoped that “this
development will set a positive example for the wider region to adopt similar
measures paving the way for the abolition of the death penalty.”
On 20 August 2014, the President of the United Arab Emirates, Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, gave
the nod to the country’s first and toughest anti-terror law that should come
into force with immediate effect. It is one of the country’s laws that has been
drafted, sent for the Federal National Council (FNC) approval and then for the
Presidential assent in the shortest period of time. The law is considered one
of the toughest and most comprehensive and of international level. It
stipulates from life imprisonment to capital punishment, in addition to huge
financial fines, against those found guilty. The law stipulates that those found
guilty of attacking or threatening the President, the Vice-President or any of
the Rulers of the Emirates and their family members, and those conspiring
against the state and government will face capital punishment. The law also
includes a wide range of related criminal issues, including human trafficking
and money laundering, financing of terrorist and other crimes. Those involved
in carrying out, planning or assisting to carry out terrorist activities in the
country, or planning such activities outside but conceiving them in the
country, will face these penalties. The terrorist acts under the law include
all kinds of intentions that are threat to the society and the state, including
hijacking, holding innocent people hostage and having links with terrorist
organisations outside the country.
In February 2011, the United Arab Emirates resumed executions after three years
of suspension. The UAE’s last execution was in February 2008.
In 2012, the UAE carried out only one execution, as in 2011.
In 2013, there were no reports of executions carried out in the United Arab Emirates. However, it
resumed executions in 2014.
At least 13 new death sentences were imposed by lower criminal courts in 2013, and 7 more were upheld
by higher courts. Throughout the year a number of death sentences were commuted
to terms of imprisonment by higher courts, especially in cases of drugs
offences (15), murder (2) and rape (2). At least 20 people sentenced to death
were granted clemency by the victims’ families in exchange for Diya, or blood
During the Universal Periodic Review of human rights, in 2009, some members of the Human Rights
Council recommended that the United Arab Emirates establish a moratorium on
death sentences and executions, encourage a national debate on the death
penalty, and abolish the death penalty.
On December 18, 2014, United Arab Emirates abstained on the Resolution on a
Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.