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Anti Discrimination Laws in the UAE and Global Context

Published on : 14 Feb 2019

International Perspective on Anti Discrimination and Laws relating to Anti Discrimination in the UAE

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into existence 70 years ago, but the fundamental provision of the historic document is very much relevant today. Article 1 of the Declaration states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The Declaration is fundamental and it exhibits an egalitarian character, without which the achievement of a welfare society is not possible. Therefore, anti-discrimination legislation is necessary for the protection of employees, and their importance cannot be de-emphasized.

This article will explain the international framework on anti-discrimination and the laws against discrimination in the United Arab Emirates.

Meaning of Discrimination

Discrimination is the act of treating an individual less fairly than others. It is an unfair behavior towards a person on the grounds of gender, race, or age. The term ‘discrimination’ is derived from the Latin term ‘discriminat’ which means distinguished.

In the book ‘Social Psychology,’ Diane M. Mackie and Eliot R. Smith defines discrimination as-

The terminology of discrimination refers to the positive or negative behavior towards a social group and its members. Naturally, people think generally of negative behavior –, however discrimination against one certain group means positive discrimination for others.”

Sociological Encyclopaedia defines discrimination as the following:

“Discrimination in social life is an act of distinction that happens by offending the social norms and the principle of equality in the eye of law against certain groups of people, which is considered unacceptable by the majority and is approved by some sub-groups of the population.”

Therefore, discrimination takes place when a person is treated unfairly in comparison to others. An individual need not have undergone harm to be discriminated, as it is sufficient if a person has been treated differently than others. Since it is caused by reason of differential treatment, there are various reasons for an individual to be treated differently.

Kinds of Discrimination

Discrimination is of two kinds namely, direct discrimination and indirect discrimination.

  1. Direct discrimination- In this form of discrimination, a person is treated differently on account of a particular characteristic such as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
  2. Indirect discrimination- In this form of discrimination, a person is treated differently on account of a protected characteristic, Example- setting an age qualification for a  particular task.
  3. Therefore, discrimination need not be expressed directly; it may also be exhibited by an individual or an organization, such as a company, by setting preferences over a particular aspect of a person.

Types of Discrimination

According to the definition of discrimination as mentioned above, it is against international law to discriminate against a person on account of a particular characteristic; consequently, the following are the different forms of discrimination:

  • Age discrimination-Direct age discrimination takes place when an individual is treated adversely because of their age, whereas indirect discrimination happens when a condition concerning age is imposed upon a person.
  • Sex discrimination- This form of discrimination takes place when an individual is discriminated because of their gender.
  • Disability discrimination- Disability discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently because of any physical or mental impairment of a person.
  • Carer and Parental status- This type of discrimination takes place due to a substantial difference in responsibility between both parents for the ongoing care of the children.
  • Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation discrimination- This occurs when a person is discriminated due to their sexual identity or orientation.
  • Employment Activity- It is against the law to discriminate against a person for raising their voice for employment entitlements.
  • Discrimination by religious or political beliefs- This type of discrimination takes place when a person is mistreated because of their religious or political beliefs.
  • Marital Status discrimination- It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of their marital status.
  • Race discrimination- Race discrimination takes place when an individual is treated unfavorably because of their race, such as color, descent, nationality, ethnic background, or any other aspect related to race.

Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination as:

"Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life."

International Position against Discrimination

The laws dealing with anti-discrimination varies from state to state. However, various international conventions have undertaken and adopted measures for the protection of individuals or groups against discrimination. The following are some of the provisions international treaties have provided, for the protection against discrimination.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states the following:

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 adopted by the United Nations contains provisions against discrimination. Article 26 of the Covenant reads as:

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Case Law- In K Ahmad v. Denmark, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination found Denmark to have violated Article 6 of the Convention.

In K Ahmad, the petitioner, a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin along with his brother was taking a video of his friend taking an exam. Upon seeing this, one of the teachers had asked them to leave. However, they refused, and the headmaster was called in. The headmaster called them a ‘bunch of monkeys’ in public, and accordingly, the petitioner filed a complaint. However, the police discontinued the case and concluded that the act was out of the scope s.266 (b) of the Danish Penal Code. Subsequently, the matter was taken up by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it was held that there was a violation of the Convention.     

Therefore, the act of discrimination is well protected within the sphere of international law, and several conventions have been adopted under the guidance of the United Nations to ensure equal opportunities to secure a career, or to lead a decent life.

Anti-Discrimination Laws in the UAE

The UAE is a country with vast cultural diversity and plurality; therefore, the State of Affairs calls for adequate measures to protect against discrimination. Generally, the anti-discriminatory laws of a nation are fixed. Keeping this in mind, in 2015, the UAE adopted the Federal Decree Law Number 2 of 2015, which deals with discrimination and hatred.

Article 1 of the Federal Decree Law Number 2 of 2015 defines discrimination and hatred as the following:

“Discrimination: any distinction, limitation, exception or preference among individuals or communities on the basis of religion, belief, sect, faith, creed, race, color or ethnic origin."

“Hatred speech: any saying or act that may arouse sedition, dissent or discrimination among individuals or communities.”

Under Article 6 of Federal Decree Law, Number 2 of 2015, Discrimination in any form by any means of expression is a criminal offense and the person committing such a crime shall be liable to punishment.

The provisions under the laws provide for the punishments for the commission of offenses, stating the following:

Article 11-

“A person shall be punished by imprisonment for at least seven years and/ or a fine of at least AED 500,000 (five hundred thousand), but not over AED 2,000,000 (two million) if such person produces, manufactures, promotes, sells, or offers for sale or trading any products, goods, printings, recordings, films, tapes, CDs, software, smart applications, data in the electronic field or any industrial materials or other things including any ways of expression, involving religion contempt, discrimination, or hatred speech.” 

Article 12-

“A person shall be punished by imprisonment for at least one year and/ or a fine of at least AED 50,000 (fifty thousand), but not over AED 200,000 (two hundred thousand) if such person keeps or holds any products, printings, recordings, films, tapes, CDs, software, smart applications, data in the electronic field, or any industrial materials or other things including any ways of expression if they are prepared for distribution or display to others, involving religion contempt, discrimination or hatred speech.”

As per Article 13, a person responsible for the setting-up of a group or organization for discriminatory purposes, hate speech, or religious contempt is subject to punishment by imprisonment for no less than 10 years. Further, it is also illegal to hold meetings or conferences with the aim of religious contempt, hate speech, or discrimination.

Article 17 of the Federal Law Number 2 of 2015 states that a representative, manager, or an agent of a company shall be punished for any offense committed by any personnel of the corporation, provided that such a person is aware of the commission of such an offense. In such a case, an individual may also be fined.

Therefore, the law stipulates that companies encourage awareness amongst employees for the prevention of such offenses.


Anti-discrimination laws are necessary to protect employees and communities against oppression, thereby making way for the betterment of state and society. Without anti-discrimination laws, anyone may be discriminated against for any reason; therefore, the importance of such laws cannot be deemphasized.

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