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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Administratively, the UAE is a loose federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. The pace at which local government in each emirate evolves from traditional to modern is set primarily by the ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil) and revenues. In this milieu, federal powers have developed slowly. The constitution established the positions of president (chief of state) and vice president, each serving 5-year terms; a Council of Ministers (cabinet), led by a prime minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member National Assembly, a consultative body whose members are appointed by the emirate rulers. President Shaikh Zayyed bin Sultan Al Nahyyan has been president of the UAE since it was founded.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The United Arab Emirates has a dual system of Shari'a and civil courts. The civil courts generally are part of the federal system and are answerable to the Federal Supreme Court, located in Abu Dhabi, which has the power of judicial review as well as original jurisdiction in disputes between emirates or between the Federal Government and individual emirates. The Emirates of Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah have local courts, which have jurisdiction over matters within their territory that the Constitution or federal legislation does not specifically reserve to the federal system. Most judges are noncitizen Arabs, whose mandate is subject to periodic renewal by the Government; however, the number of citizens serving as public prosecutors and judges, particularly at the federal level, continued to grow.

Each emirate administers Shari'a courts. In some emirates, in addition to matters of personal status, these courts consider all types of civil and commercial cases as well as serious criminal cases. They act in accordance with traditional Islamic law and practice, but also must answer to the Federal Supreme Court. Dubai has a special Shi'a council to act on matters pertaining to Shi'a family law.

Each court system has an appeals process. Death sentences may be appealed to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the President of the Federation. Non-Muslims who are tried for criminal offenses in Shari'a courts may receive civil penalties at the discretion of the judge. Shari'a penalties imposed on non-Muslims may be overturned or modified by a higher court.

In cases in which a defendant is acquitted of a crime, the prosecutor may appeal the acquittal to a higher court. If the case is appealed, the higher court reviews the case and may receive more and new evidence. If convinced of the defendant's guilt, the appellate court may set aside the lower court's verdict of not guilty and enter a verdict of guilty with an order that the defendant pay compensation. The appellate standard for overturning an acquittal is reportedly "without the slightest doubt of guilt."

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Emirati Government generally respected its citizens' rights in some areas; however, its record was poor in other areas in 2001. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government also reportedly at times abused persons in custody, kept persons in incommunicado detention, and kept persons in detention after their release dates. The Government restricts the freedoms of speech and of the press. The press continued to avoid direct criticism of the Government and exercised self-censorship. The Government tightly restricts the freedoms of assembly and association, and imposes some restrictions on freedom of religion. Women play a subordinate role in society, although they continue to make progress in education and in the work force. The Government passed a law increasing maternity leave from 45 days to 6 months. Also, in October the Ruler of Sharjah appointed 5 women to serve on the emirate-wide 40-member Consultative Council. The Government severely restricts worker rights. Working conditions and abuse of foreign domestic servants are serious problems in an economy in which 98 percent of the private sector workforce is foreign. Trafficking in women and children is a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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