UK Foreign Office falling ‘far short’ protecting British women in UAE: report

UK Foreign Office falling ‘far short’ protecting British women in UAE: report
A new fact-finding report revealed that the UK Foreign Office is failing to offer the necessary assistance to British women assaulted and abused in the UAE.
4 min read
03 November, 2021
The 56-page document said a 'common thread' between four women's stories of abuse in the UAE was the lack of support from UK representatives in the country [Getty]

The UK Foreign Office has “fallen far short of expectations” when protecting British women who have suffered discrimination and injustice at the hands of the UAE authorities, revealed a report published Wednesday. 

The fact-finding report contained testimonies from four women who had been assaulted and abused in the UAE and gave evidence to a cross-party panel of British parliamentarians earlier this year. 

The 56-page document said the “common thread” between all four accounts was “the lack of assistance by UK representatives in the UAE”. 

“It is clear that the Consular assistance provided to British women in the UAE whose rights have been breached has at times fallen far short of expectations,” the report said. 

“The Panel encouraged Ministers to take this matter seriously and learn from high profile cases,” it added. 

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Caitlin McNamara, who was sexually assaulted by the UAE Minister of Tolerance in February 2020, according to the report, was simply given a website link on how to deal with what happened to her after contacting UK representatives. 

“It was all extremely frustrating because it was almost like someone was reading out a brief of what to give a rape victim. Here’s a link to a rape crisis centre, here’s how you might get a lawyer, but it required me to do everything,” said McNamara.

The former UK Foreign Office employee said that despite all her knowledge of the region and employment history, she was unprepared for the realities and risks women face when going to the UAE. 

She also added: “I wish, at the time...someone from the Consulate [was] dedicated to me to help me do simple things." 

Asa Hutchinson, who witnessed a fight outside a Dubai restaurant in 2017 and was subsequently arrested, said the consular assistance she received was “brutally low”. 

Asa described going to the British Embassy for help when she was “borderline suicidal”.

Embassy staff told her that they would “try to get some information” - not a good enough answer given her distress, she said. 

Tiina Jauhiainen, a close friend of Princess Latifa, daughter of the Ruler of Dubai, was kidnapped and detained in the UAE. She said her status as a Finnish citizen but UK resident meant getting diplomatic help has been very difficult.  

Jauhiainen said: “It makes you think what is the UK government really doing to protect me or countless other people who are subjected to similar human rights abuses”. 

The fourth woman in the report is unnamed because she is still detained without charge in the UAE. It is believed she was targeted for her human rights advocacy. 

The woman's lawyer said it was “shocking” the Foreign Office maintains a position in which her detainment is in accordance with UAE laws and procedures. 

The lawyer also explained how Embassy staff treated the woman's family: "There seems to be a policy of very pleasant first interaction, but without any actual advice or support. This quickly changes to aggressive unhelpfulness." 

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The report also made it clear that when consular assistance is offered to UK nationals abroad, it is “by way of a policy commitment”. The Foreign Office, therefore, maintains a stance in which it is under no obligation to extend assistance to UK citizens who have been detained or abused overseas, it read. 

The UAE, an oil-rich Gulf country, sells itself as a West-facing business and regional hub. 

However, its criminal justice system has been slammed by rights groups, such as Amnesty International, for failing to protect basic human rights and penalising innocent citizens and foreign nationals. 

Rhys Davies, a human rights law barrister and legal counsel to the Panel, told The New Arab that there is a perception of the UAE being a “sandy place to go on holiday. But when stuff goes wrong, it goes wrong badly”. 

“The laws are arbitrary and inconsistent” and there are “breaches of Westerners human rights”. 

Davies said it was “the duty of government” to protect human rights and uphold the rule of law. 

The New Arab contacted the UAE embassy in London but received no response by the time of publication.