Emirati judicial and Legal Advisor Mohammed bin Saqr Al-Zaabi said that the UAE judiciary is suffering from a loss of independence and executive mobilization in its current situation. He noted that a judge in the UAE is nothing more than an employee of the UAE Minister of Justice and the UAE government, which controls all his affairs from appointment to promotion and dismissal.
Counsellor Al-Zaabi added in an exclusive interview with the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) that the independence of the judiciary is an integrated system and not just a buzzword, and that it is not possible to talk about the independence of the judiciary in the face of the interference of the State Security Apparatus (SSA) in the judiciary, which went as far as summoning the Emirati judge to investigate his rights and negotiate to force him to cooperate with them.
Al-Zaabi pointed out that the Emirati authorities exploit the secondment system and bring judges from outside the UAE, treat them like employees, import them from abroad and terminate their services whenever they want, and that they do not want to increase the number of Emirati judges so that the Emirati judge is not the decision maker, and then demand an independent judiciary, as is the case in countries that respect the independence and prestige of the judge and the judiciary.
Counsellor Al-Zaabi is one of the legal personalities in the UAE. He was the chairman of the Emirati Jurists Association (EJA) from 2002 to 2010. He has many years of experience in the judiciary, having served as a prosecutor in the UAE.
EDAC met with Counsellor Al-Zaabi and asked him about his assessment of the extent of judicial independence in the UAE, the role of the EJA and the reasons for its establishment, and other issues related to the suffering of Emirati detainees of conscience and their families. Here is the full text of the interview:
1- the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said that the UAE judiciary lacks independence, in your opinion. Is this a correct description?
In terms of legal texts that govern judicial work, there is no text confirming the independence of the judiciary in the UAE from the executive authority, but everything that is contained in terms of formation and dependency confirms that the federal judiciary in the UAE is not independent and is managed by the executive bodies, whether the Minister of Justice or the Council of Ministers Which is followed by the Minister of Justice.
2- What are the main reasons for the absence of independence in the UAE judiciary?
The judiciary is an integrated system and is not just slogans through which independence is achieved. The judge, according to UAE law, realistically and theoretically, is just an employee of the Minister of Justice and the Council of Ministers, because he is subjected to the Judicial Council, which is run by the Minister of Justice and with the membership of a group of administrators in the ministry, and then they control all his affairs from appointment, promotion, transfer, salaries and rewards and even the termination of the his service if the judge does not work according to their whims and interprets the law according to their desire, because they are the ones who decide the law, explain it and interpret it.
The judiciary in the UAE claims independence, but it does not exist at all, so that the judge turns into a mere puppet who is unable to judge justly between people. The judge has also become affiliated with the SSA, he is also summoned for interrogation to cooperate with the SSA or even to obtain his rights to work. He is subjected to extortion to remain at his job. This is for the Emirati judge. As for judges who come on secondment system from other Arab countries, their situation is worse.
3- There is a lot of talk about the Emirati authorities appointing foreigners to judicial positions in exchange for temporary contracts. Are these appointments due to the lack of a sufficient number of qualified Emirati judges for these positions, or are there other reasons? And Does this affect the independence of the judiciary?
At the beginning of the establishment of the country in 1971, there was a real need for Arab judges with experience who would contribute with us to the establishment of judicial work in the state due to the lack of qualified human elements from the Emirati youth because education was at the beginning of its inception, but with the passage of time, the use of the foreigners did not become a matter of need and necessity. As much as it has become a matter of managing and controlling the judicial work through the secondment system, and we have seen how judges who adhere to the principle of judicial independence in the UAE or try to establish this principle through the transfer of their experiences do not stay long in the secondment, but those who cooperate with the executive authority are extended to them. Even if their performance is weak, and favoritism also became a criteria for the country of secondment, where some names are recommended according to personal relationships and not competence -this does not prevent the presence of competencies among them-, but the talk here is about the policy of the state that wanted to deal with judges as employees that import them from abroad and end their services whenever they want, and that they do not want to increase the number of Emirati judges so that the Emirati judge is not the decision maker, and then demand an independent judiciary, as is the case in countries that respect the independence and prestige of the judge and the judiciary.
4- You were a member of the board of directors of EJA and then its president during the period 2002-2010. What are the most important objectives of EJA? Did it succeed in achieving its goals?
EJA, according to the ceiling available to it, aimed at its establishment in 1981 to bring together all legal professionals, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers and legal advisors, and cooperate with each other to establish the principles of justice in the newly established state and contribute to creating a sound legal environment. It also aimed to spread legal awareness among the members of society through seminars, pamphlets and books, and cooperate with state institutions by providing sound legal opinion through the various experiences owned by its members, and cooperating with similar bodies, whether inside or outside the country, to benefit from previous experiences of us and their older colleagues who has a long experience in this field, as well as interest in the Palestinian cause as an Arab and Islamic human rights issue and the consolidation of this legitimate right through conferences, festivals and statements.
Within the limits of the available capabilities and the available ceiling of freedom, EJA was able to advance these goals to the fullest extent in its early years until the beginning of the new century. With the decrease in the ceiling of freedoms and the intensification of the SSA grip on the joints of the state, restrictions on the work of EJA began until the association’s board of directors under the management of Dr. Muhammad Al-Roken was dissolved in 2011.
5- What was the reaction of the UAE authorities to the establishment of EJA? Did they try to stop it from doing its duites?
At the beginning of the establishment of EJA, which accompanied the first years of the establishment of the state, there was a welcome from the rulers of the UAE and an embrace of such activity, but with the beginning of the new century, the view and treatment changed because the new generation of rulers of the UAE, especially Abu Dhabi, which didn’t want to follow the path of law and freedoms, but rather wanted a single opinion and a single voice. This new generation of rulers sees that independent human rights awareness work will spoil what it wants to achieve, and we may discover this fact now and clearly, especially after ten years have passed since the EJA’s board of directors was dissolved and most of its members were arrested and every independent and honest human rights voice within the state was silenced, such as Dr. Muhammad Al-Roken and Dr. Muhammad al-Mansoori, Professor Ali Saeed al-Kindi and Muhammad al-Siddiq, and the rest were placed under surveillance, travel bans and deprivation of many rights and freedoms for them and their families.
6- Certainly, you have a close relationship with many detainees of conscience in the UAE. Could you give us the names of three of them and mention their most important virtues?
Dr. Muhammad al-Roken is my professor at the College of Sharia and Law and the head of EJA, from whom I benefited a lot in the legal aspect and the personal aspect.
Judge Muhammad Saeed Dhiab Al Abdouli is a dignified, tolerant man of unimaginable prestige who is respected and appreciated by all who know him and acknowledges him with his fair judgments of opponents before colleagues. I had the honor to work with him as a public prosecutor in the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of Appeal.
Mr. Ali Al-Kindi, advisor on state issues and a fellow human rights activist, is a wise man in his opinion and advice, who is persistent and keen on his work and the achievement of justice, even if that costs him his freedom.
There are many names that I do not forget, such as the economy expert Ahmed Ghaith, the man who works and performs as a whole nation, the judge and director of the Judicial Inspection Ahmed Al-Zaabi, the smiling man who works silently, Ahmed Al-Hay Al-Qubaisi, the friendly man who serves the people who know and the ones who didn’t know, Mr. Ahmed Knaid Al-Muhairi, and all the good virtues that you are looking for, you will find in the current detainees of conscience, human rights defenders and opinion-holders in the UAE prisons.
7- Dr. Muhammad Al-Mansoori, Dr. Muhammad Al-Roken and Dr. Hadef Al-Owais, prominent lawyers and human rights defenders who are in Al-Razeen Prison. Can you tell us about what the UAE is losing in the absence of such people?
The UAE loses a lot from the absence of these and similar talents from the sons of the UAE, as it loses knowledge, honesty, strength, good opinion, honest advisors and rational men, and loses years of its prosperity because of its path behind those who do not like goodness to the UAE and are looking for their personal interests and their whims and desires to increase their wealth, even if they squandered all the wealth of the UAE.
8- Can you tell us about the suffering of detainees of conscience in the UAE?
A suffering that began more than ten years ago and has not ended until now, a suffering witnessed by hundreds of human rights organizations’ reports that documented this grief day by day since the SSA kidnapped detainees of conscience from their homes, roads and workplaces and subjected them to bad torment in secret prisons, then framed them and treated them in its prisons, as "hostages" who have no rights other than what keeps them alive.
9- The violations were not limited to detainees of conscience only, but also affected the detainees' families. Can you describe for us the most notable violations?
The violations of the SSA against the families of the detainees were a systematic act to weaken their well in defending the detainees, so they pursued them in all aspects of their lives, including work, travel, education, refusal to renew ID papers, periodic summons for investigation and even withdrawal of citizenships, and the suffering continues to this day.
10- What message would you like to send to your fellow human rights defenders who are currently in UAE prisons?
Be patient as your relief will come soon, and injustice does not last. History has recorded you in the lists of honor and in the lists of the freemen, while whoever wanted to distort your image, their picture has been smeared with what ever they wanted to stain you with.
11- What is your message to the families of detainees who suffer from the loss of their loved ones and deprivation of their rights?
You have been patient a lot and your patience is greeted, and despite the severity of the sorrow, you have not been panicked, but you were an example to follow for those who want goodness for their country, despite the violations you have been subjected to, and you have no fault except that you are the family of the ones who served and advised their country, but the forces of corruption do not want the righteous rather they expel them from their country or put them in prison. The future is for you and for the reformers of patient families like you.
12- We want from you a final message to the people of the UAE.
Your country needs the word of truth from you, and to stand with the truth and to support the truth, not to hail the corrupt, the thieves of our homeland, and if the price of the word today is the loss of a job, position or salary, the price tomorrow will be greater, we ask God for us and for you, safety by saying the word of truth which preserves our country and it people. Be as your fathers who were living poor, but did not accept humiliation.