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Minister flays US rights remark

posted on 16/01/2005: 763 views

The US Government is not qualified to judge human rights abroad, a UAE minister said yesterday. Having committed one of the most serious abuses of human rights in the world, he said, the United States is in no position to criticise anyone. Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, was reacting to a Reuters report quoting a US official who accused the UAE of lacking ILO-consistent labour laws and leaving foreign workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

"The UAE and Oman must improve their worker rights' laws to qualify for proposed free-trade pacts with the United States," Assistant US Trade Representative Cathy Novelli was quoted as saying after a hearing on Oman trade issues on Friday. "They need to have an [International Labour Organisation]-consistent labour law."

The American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) objected to George W. Bush administration plans to start free-trade talks in March with Oman and the UAE. They charge that the two countries' labour records are among the worst in the world.

Dr Al Ka'abi told "Gulf News” yesterday the UAE has ratified six out of the eight fundamental ILO conventions, while the US, "as far as I know, has ratified only one of them". "The UAE has one of the best labour laws in the world. But, unfortunately, some companies fail to observe it to the letter. We investigate such isolated cases and punish offenders.

"Do these isolated breaches justify portraying the UAE's labour record as one of the worst in the world?" the minister said. "The UAE has a Constitution that protects human rights and liberties. The labour law will be amended to be more consistent with ILO standards and a law will be issued soon giving foreign workers the right to establish trade unions, thus observing the ILO conventions on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise and Collective bargaining.

"How can a country that observes abolition of forced labour, equality between men and women in employment and remuneration and elimination of child labour be accused of having one of the worst labour records in the world?" Dr Al Ka'abi said.

"US officials depend on questionable reports by the US State Department and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. They depend on isolated incidents and never make proper surveys or contact government officials to make balanced reports.

"On the other hand, American forces, torturing and degrading inmates in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, have greatly undermined the credibility of America as a defender of human rights," the minister said quoting the New York-based Human Rights Watch as saying in its annual report.

He said the report dubbed the abuse of prisoners by American forces in Iraq one of the two most serious rights violations, along with the displacement and killing of tens of thousands of people in Sudan's Darfur region.

He cited the case of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at US-run facilities at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan as well as the US failure to allocate substantial funds to provide unemployment benefits to the more than 70 per cent of Iraqi workers who are still without jobs. He also pointed out that the US occupation authorities are enforcing Saddam era laws prohibiting unionisation in the public sector and state-owned companies. (The Gulf News)


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