Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2015

06 March 2015
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Speech
Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2015

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatu Allah.

Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be back at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Thank you to Isobel Abulhoul, the Festival Director who started this festival in 2008, and each year it has grown from strength to strength.

I would like to focus my speech today on Human Rights.

There is a big misconception from outside of the UAE that my country denies people Human Rights. I cannot understand this! And I want to encourage as much debate as possible. Please hear me out and ask me anything you want on this subject afterwards.

The United Nations Human Rights Watch recently issued its annual report. I read the report and I was shocked! I didn’t recognize the country it was talking about. 

I would like to answer some of the key findings in the report and DISCREDIT them.

The topics under debate are broken down into 5 categories…

I would like to go through them point by point, and draw your attention to misjudgements contained in this exceedingly misleading report.

Point 1 focuses on ‘Detention, torture, and fair trial.’

It states that in 2014 the UAE detained individuals it perceived as posing a threat to national security, and criticised our new counter-terrorism law.

Well, the UAE does NOT and will NOT apologise for taking firm measures against ANYONE who threatens its national security or the safety of its nationals and foreign residents.

The UAE will always guard its children against individuals who disrespect the freedom, opportunity and enviable lifestyles that my country offers to nationals and expatriates alike.

Wouldn’t we rather protect our families and remove individuals who are posing a threat to our safety?

Look what has happened in other countries that haven’t acted with caution! We don’t want our safety compromised at all.

We need to know that our leaders are protecting us from harm.

If anyone threatens our security then we must take these people off the streets. 

Anyone who poses a threat needs to be dealt with accordingly.


Point 2 is on ‘Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly.’

The report says that in August last year the UAE issued a counter-terrorism law that will give UAE authorities the power to prosecute peaceful critics, political dissidents and human rights activists as terrorists.

We will absolutely NOT permit recruiters from the ‘Islamic State’, Daesh, Al Qaeda or groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood or other enemy militias to hand-out recruitment fliers to our youth in parks.

As for freedom of expression, we enjoy the privilege of being able to approach our leaders, who are always open to constructive criticism, to talk about our issues.

Look what Freedom of Expression has done in the West too…

In London and other major cities in the West, terrorists are free to hand out leaflets in the streets.

They are recruiting right under the noses of the authorities. How can this be allowed? Is this a human right?

If they are recruiting and training terrorist’s right in front of the citizens then there is no hope.


Point 3 of the report says that the UAE courts invoked a repressive law to prosecute government critics.

But, how can we just sit back and let people criticise our government?

Look at what our leaders provide citizens and residents.  

Our leaders are always planning for the future, for the betterment of the country and the people.  They deserves praise not critique. 

The UAE is just 43 years old, and look what it has achieved. It is a country with world class infrastructure, airlines, hotels and other world class facilities.  There is no tax to fund all this. Our government doesn’t take from our pockets.

Foreigners and locals can flourish here. They choice, to live, work and retire in the country. Would they do this if their human rights were being violated?   

The report says that in January 2014, authorities denied entry to a Human Rights Watch staff member and placed two others on the blacklist as they left the country in the immediate aftermath of the release of its 2014 Report. 

It adds that the UAE labelled them for being dangerous to public security.

Well, congratulations to the UAE authorities for recognising the Human Rights Watch as a subversive entity and acting accordingly! My country does not put out a welcome mat for troublemakers and agitators.


Point 4 criticises the UAE’s so-called “abuse” of migrant workers. The report states that they continue to face serious exploitation.

It says that Migrant Workers – who account for a high percentage of residents – are low paid and “continue to be subjected to abuses that amount to forced labour”. 

I encourage you to look closely into this matter. Workers in the UAE are well-cared for by both the private and public sectors, which invest a lot of money to provide the country’s labour force with air-conditioned, clean accommodation and a decent standard of living.

I started my business in the construction industry. In the last two years the Al Habtoor Group has invested billions of dirhams in Dubai.

Thousands of construction workers are working on our projects. 

We value them, and have spent millions on building housing for them. We provide them with housing and food on the table. They are well looked after.

To further emphasise this point, in 2007, the UAE became the FIRST country in the region to adopt laws AGAINST human trafficking.

And there are severe penalties for anyone found guilty of enslaving another human being.

There is no such thing as forced labour in the Emirates; anyone who isn’t happy here is free to leave.

Those instances where abuse against workers was proved are rare – and are known to occur everywhere in the world.

The report is neither fair nor objective when it infers that a few unfortunate incidents are representative of the norm.


Point 5 of the report criticises Women’s Rights.

The report says that under ‘Women’s Rights Federal law No. 28 of 2005’ regulates matters of personal status in the UAE and some of its provisions discriminate against women.

I quote here… “For example, it requires that a male guardian conclude a woman’s marriage contract; likewise, talaq occurs when the husband makes a declaration before a judge.”

My response to this is that the UAE is a Muslim country and our family laws are based on Islamic Shari’a. In this instance the Human Rights Watch launches an attack on our faith, which is unacceptable.

Women in the UAE are treated with more respect than women elsewhere in the world; they are cared-for, provided-for and enjoy the same educational and employment opportunities as men.

Just look at how many women are employed in ministries, government departments and in numerous fields within the private sector.

There are four women in the UAE cabinet and we are proud of our female pilots.


Enough is enough! I will not tolerate defamatory attacks on my homeland by a committee based in New York under the pretence of concern for human rights.

And I believe I speak for the majority of my compatriots who’ve had the misfortune of reading the blatant misrepresentations and exaggerations contained in the 2015 report.

In some instances, the allegations are so outlandish, I can only wonder whether they are motivated by the authors’ personal political agenda or have been concocted for propaganda purposes on the say-so of a state actor.

Over the years, the Human Rights Watch has been condemned by various states for ideological bias, inaccurate reporting and for falling under the sway of US government foreign policies.

I can only reiterate what I told delegates during my keynote speech to the C3 Summit held in New York during October last year:

Human rights organizations and the Western media must stop trying to fit us into Western moulds…

We do not want to be influenced by foreign concepts of democracy and human rights.

We know what works for us!

Everyone is welcome in the UAE - with the exception of representatives of Human Rights Watch or anyone else who arrives with the intention of making biased, untruthful slanderous attacks on my country that’s been recognised over and over as a model to be emulated by the entire world.

Let me conclude by posing a question to you.

Would we be all sitting here if we thought our Human Rights were denied?

More than 80 per cent of the UAE population is expatriate.

So answer me this… would this be possible if the country systematically committed human rights violations?

No! We live in one of the most advanced societies in the world – and what’s more it is SAFE!

Thank you.

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