UAE policy on access to justice a shining example: Geneva Centre.

Initiatives implemented by the government of the United Arab Emirates to enhance access to justice for foreign workers have brought positive results and could be replicated on a broader basis in the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, countries, labour law experts, who participated in a panel debate held at the United Nations Office at Geneva, said.

The conference, entitled, "Improving access to justice for workers: the case of UAE", was held on 20th March by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the European Public Law Organisation, in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of the UAE to UN Geneva. The debate took place on the sidelines of the 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The aim of the panel debate was to review the progress achieved in the UAE to enhance access to justice and to identify areas of possible improvement. It likewise served as a starting-point for a process that would advocate a broadening of issues related to human rights and labour rights for foreign workers in the Gulf region. The review was intended to assess the most innovative features of such reforms and their possible replication in GCC countries.

The panel debate emphasised the importance of pursuing progress witnessed in the UAE with regard to justice for workers. Reforms in the UAE are part of a broad-based effort in GCC countries to improve workers' rights in these advanced liberal economies. UAE government policy to enhance access to justice is embedded in the UAE 2021 Vision which stipulates, inter alia, the importance of promoting safe, public and fair judiciary.

The implementation of the UAE Vision 2021 is bringing concrete results in the field of enhancing judicial system access and efficiency, according to Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, the Geneva Centre's Chairman. Key initiatives to promote the right and welfare of workers have been implemented by the UAE government in this regard. The introduction of e-trials, video conferencing, conciliation, real-time translations, mediation and court hearings are likewise telling examples of UAE's aspirations to enhance access to justice, he added.

The achievements of the UAE government were also highlighted by other keynote speakers. In his opening remarks, Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Al Zaabi, the Permanent Representative of the UAE's Permanent Mission to UN Geneva, observed that the UAE is, "governed by a legal system that protects their beliefs, respects their customs and traditions and their ways of life."

"Multiple measures, decrees, and resolutions" will be considered by the UAE government so as to "implement these laws and increase workers protections," he said. Other initiatives related to inter alia the protection against work-related injuries, health, insurance and other related issues are also being implemented by the UAE government, Al Zaabi noted.

One concrete example of the UAE's endeavours to enhance access to justice is the introduction of the Wages Protection System, WPS. "This is an important step to ensure the protection of the rights of workers," Ambassador Al Zaabi said.

Dr. Jill Wells, Senior Policy Advisor at Engineers against Poverty, highlighted that the introduction of the WPS has contributed to resolving issues related to late payments of wages. In this regard, companies employing migrant workers need to set aside bank guarantees � it was highlighted - to pay workers' wages when employers default so as to protect the wages of migrant construction workers.

A case study analysis of the endeavours of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, ADJD, to promote access to justice was likewise offered by Mr. Benjimin George Burgher, Judge and Legal Consultant with ADJD. In this regard, a mobile court is being used by ADJD, he noted, to carry out court procedures in an accessible and effective manner.

More than 70,000 workers have so far benefited from this innovative method to enhance the provision of legal aid and access to justice.

In view of the fact that migrants and foreign workers may add up to 90 percent of the populations in GCC countries, the Geneva Centre's Executive Director, Ambassador IdrissJazairy � who also served as a moderator for the debate � underlined that labour reforms must benefit host and source societies alike.


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