The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The United Arab Emirates is not a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 21 of which governs the right of peaceful assembly.
The right of peaceful assembly is, though, a fundamental human right that is part of the corpus of customary international law. It is also a general principle of law.See Art. 38(1), 1945 Statute of the International Court of Justice.
At regional level, the United Arab Emirates is a State Party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the Charter, every citizen has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 33 of the 1971 Constitution of the United Arab Emirates (as amended through 2004), the freedom of assembly and the freedom to hold meetings shall be guaranteed within the limits of the law.
There is no specific legislation governing assemblies. As CIVICUS reports:
The Emirati Constitution guarantees the freedom to assemble peacefully but in practice protests are banned in the UAE. Regulations do not clearly stipulate how and for what reasons a gathering should be disbanded. People must obtain permission from the authorities before they gather in public, a clear violation of international standards on the freedom of peaceful assembly. As a result, gatherings are extremely rare although there have been notable cases of workers’ protests in recent months. Spontaneous gatherings are prohibited and authorities have arrested numerous participants of public gatherings. Amendments in 2012 to the UAE’s cyber crime law now mean that people who use the Internet to organise ‘unauthorised’ public demonstrations can be severely punished.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Each emirate maintains a local police force, which is officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. It is not known if internal regulations governing police use of force are compliant with international law.
In its national report for its 2018 Universal Periodic Review under the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UAE stated that: "Pursuant to Ministerial Decision No. 654 of 2005, a police code of conduct and ethics was issued for personnel of the Ministry of the Interior. A policy on the use of force in the Ministry of the Interior has also been adopted".
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
It is not known if internal regulations governing police use of firearms are compliant with international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
The United Arab Emirates is not a State Party to the ICCPR.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on the United Arab Emirates:
The government places restrictions on freedom of assembly. Public meetings require government permits, and unauthorized political or labor protests are subject to dispersal by police.