The death penalty is rarely applied in the UAE, also because the law requires that a panel of three judges agree on the decision of a sentence to death, which can be commuted if the family of the victim forgives the murder, accepting financial compensation for the crime. When a family accepts blood money, a court can jail a murderer to a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years. In the UAE, the standard blood money for causing someone’s death is 200,000 dirhams (about 54,450 USD).
Capital crimes under the constitution are: murder, rape, treason, aggravated robbery, adultery and apostasy. Drug-trafficking, environmental pollution and terrorism were later added as capital offences. Under a 1995 law, drug traffickers in the UAE face the death penalty, although no executions are known to have taken place.
The Federal Environment Law effective from February 1, 2000 provides the death penalty and fines ranging from Dh1 million to Dh10 million for pollution both on land and at sea.
On April 6, 2000, a Ras al-Khaimah sharia court ruled that anyone found guilty of employing a magician to cast a spell on others will be sentenced to death because the practice violates Islamic law and is therefore blasphemous.
Under Islamic Sharia law applied in the Gulf Arab state, a victim's family can ask for the death penalty if the court finds the defendant guilty of murder. The victim's family is also entitled to waive such a right and demand "blood money" in its stead.
The execution is carried out in an undisclosed location by a firing squad that consists of nine men. At least one is given a rifle loaded with a blank cartridge, so none of them knows who fired the fatal shot. According to execution procedures, the families of convicts on death row can visit them both during their imprisonment and on the day of execution, but they are not allowed to witness the execution itself. However, the victims' families may be allowed to witness the execution.
Representatives from the prosecution, Dubai Police, the director of the correctional facility and a physician must be present when the sentence is carried out. The death warrant must be read aloud by the director of the correctional establishment or one of his nominees. A prosecution representative will document any last words said by the convict, and the time of death.
Under the Maliki School of Islamic legal thought, officially adopted in UAE courts, a Muslim who murders a non-Muslim cannot face execution. But the Court of Cassation, in a precedent-setting decision, on 29 December 2010, ordered to treat the murder of a non-Muslim the same as that of a Muslim, under an alternative Islamic school of legal thought, Hanafi, which is the only Sunni school of jurisprudence that calls for the death penalty if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim. Hanafi scholars note that an Islamic text that prohibits the killing of a Muslim for taking a non-Muslim life was meant to be applied only in times of war.
In the United Arab Emirates, stoning to death is a religiously stipulated punishment for adultery under Sharia law, however it is rare for judges to hand this sentence down. In the past, Emirati Criminal Courts have sentenced people convicted of adultery to death by stoning, but these sentences have not yet been enforced. As per Islamic Sharia law, a person may be convicted of adultery if a confession is obtained, or if four people testify. However, getting pregnant as a result of an affair outside wedlock is sufficient proof.
On July 28, 2004 the UAE enacted its first counter-terrorism law. The law allows the death penalty for people convicted of setting up, participating in or managing any group with the intention of committing terrorist acts. It describes as "terrorism" any act that spreads terror or harms the public or heads of states or government officials or seeks to destabilise the general order of society. Imprisonment for life or shorter periods would be passed on anyone guilty of aiding terrorist groups with funds, weapons or shelter either inside or outside the UAE and anyone guilty of receiving military or security training by terrorist groups.
On 14 December 2013, Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer, head of the Criminal Court of First Instance, called for changes to legal procedures, including in cases which could lead to the death penalty. Abdul Baseer said most murders were the result of fights and could not be regarded as premeditated, so the family’s input was not necessary for the case to proceed. Another issue he believes needs addressing involves interrogation of suspected criminals by police officers. “We face problems from a major mistake committed by some arrest policemen when they violate the law and interrogate the defendant,” he said. “This is an invalid procedure legally and it invalidates the entire case, even if the defendant confesses in court.”
On 29 January 2014, Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan issued a stay on all execution in murder cases to give authorities the chance to contact the victims’ blood parents, Gulf News reported on 5 February. “What the order is trying to do is to settle such cases with the blood parents of the victims,” a top official told Gulf News, adding that the order doesn’t include such cases of terrorism, rape and drugs. There are dozens of inmates on death row in the UAE, who may benefit from the order on the condition that authorities are able to contact the victims’ blood parents. One official said that a committee was formed by the Presidential Affairs Ministry to contact the blood parents of the victims in order to settle the various cases. “It is a compassionate gesture by the President to settle those cases and at the same time ensure justice is served according to Islamic Sharia rules and the values of UAE society.” The European Union Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, welcomed President Khalifa’s announcement. “I hope this will constitute a first step towards the consideration of a definitive moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the UAE,” she said in a statement on 7 February. The EU foreign policy chief said she also hoped that “this development will set a positive example for the wider region to adopt similar measures paving the way for the abolition of the death penalty.”
In October 2016, the president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) passed a Federal Law Decree 7/2016 amending the Emirates’ penal code. The new law illustrates the UAE’s blatant lack of respect and commitment for international human rights standards and continued obstruction of its citizens’ basic rights and freedoms.
The war on terror
Indeed, the new law expands the application of the death penalty for a number of crimes, which are defined in very broad and unclear terms and can be used to punish just about anything. One particularly concerning article states that anyone found guilty of establishing any kind of organisation that aims at “overthrowing the government” or “fighting against the constitutional principles on which the system of government was built” shall be put to death or spend his life in prison.
In practice, this means that any political opposition group or any group calling for constitutional reforms can be targeted and have all of its members or supporters prosecuted and sentenced to death. The same sentence is replicated in another article outlawing groups that endanger “state security” or the “interests of the state.” What is concerning is that these provisions make no mention of violent acts or incitation to violence and as such, can be used to silence any peaceful association – a right guaranteed by the universal declaration of human rights – under the pretext that it is harming the interests of the state.
On 20 August 2014, the President of the United Arab Emirates, Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, gave the nod to the country’s first and toughest anti-terror law that should come into force with immediate effect. It is one of the country’s laws that has been drafted, sent for the Federal National Council (FNC) approval and then for the Presidential assent in the shortest period of time. The law is considered one of the toughest and most comprehensive and of international level. It stipulates from life imprisonment to capital punishment, in addition to huge financial fines, against those found guilty. The law stipulates that those found guilty of attacking or threatening the President, the Vice-President or any of the Rulers of the Emirates and their family members, and those conspiring against the state and government will face capital punishment. The law also includes a wide range of related criminal issues, including human trafficking and money laundering, financing of terrorist and other crimes. Those involved in carrying out, planning or assisting to carry out terrorist activities in the country, or planning such activities outside but conceiving them in the country, will face these penalties. The terrorist acts under the law include all kinds of intentions that are threat to the society and the state, including hijacking, holding innocent people hostage and having links with terrorist organisations outside the country.
In February 2011, the United Arab Emirates resumed executions after three years of suspension. The UAE’s last execution was in February 2008.
In 2015, the United Arab Emirates carried out only one execution, as in 2014. In 2013, there were no reports of executions carried out in the UAE. In 2012, the UAE carried out only one execution, as in 2011. The UAE imposed eight death sentences, reported Amnesty International.
In 2015, at least twelve commutations were granted through blood money.
In 2016, no execution was recorded but 26 new death sentences were issued according to Amnesty International. United Nations
During the Universal Periodic Review of human rights, in 2009, some members of the Human Rights Council recommended that the United Arab Emirates establish a moratorium on death sentences and executions, encourage a national debate on the death penalty, and abolish the death penalty.
On December 19, 2016, United Arab Emirates abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.