Sun Jul 9, 2:46 PM ET
ABU DHABI (AFP) - A government committee in the United Arab Emirates approved a draft law that provides for stiff penalties reaching life imprisonment for human trafficking, the state WAM news agency reported.
The draft legislation on combating human trafficking, which now goes to the full cabinet, was approved at a meeting of the ministerial legislative panel chaired by Justice Minister Mohammad bin Nakhira al-Dhaheri, WAM said.
Justice ministry assistant undersecretary Ali al-Housni said the draft law describes "all forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, practices akin to servitude or slavery, and removal of limbs as a human trafficking crime."
The proposed legislation criminalizes groups engaged in human trafficking and provides for harsh penalties extending to life imprisonment, he said.
Accomplices in human trafficking and people who try to influence witnesses to the crime would also be penalized, as would companies and institutions through which human trafficking is practiced and anyone who conceals offenders or victims.
Housni said the draft law also stipulates the creation of a national committee for combating human trafficking.
The proposed legislation will go to the cabinet for endorsement or amendment at an unspecified date.
Its approval by the ministerial committee comes as part of efforts by the UAE to improve its human rights record, which has been criticized by the US State Department and some international rights watchdogs over alleged abusive labor practices and human trafficking.
In its annual 2006 "Trafficking in Persons Report" released last month, the State Department recognized that the UAE government is "making significant efforts" to eliminate human trafficking.
It upgraded the Gulf country from the "Tier 3" of worst offenders in which it was placed last year to the "Tier 2 Watch List" comprising countries which are making "significant" efforts to deal with the problem.
But it described the UAE as "a destination country for men, women and children trafficked from South and East Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East for involuntary servitude and for sexual exploitation," saying the government was not doing enough to combat either.
The UAE took a major step to improve its rights record last year by banning the use of children as camel jockeys and funding the repatriation of child jockeys to their home countries in Asia and Africa as well as their rehabilitation.
It has also started introducing measures to improve the lot of mostly Asian construction and other blue-collar workers, whose working and living conditions have drawn criticism from groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Most recently, Abu Dhabi ordered a compulsory midday break during the extremely hot months of July and August for laborers working in the open air.
Labor rights have reportedly been a bone of contention in ongoing US-UAE talks on a free trade agreement.