UAE loosens Islamic laws to clear the path for freedoms

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Young girls in Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates said on Saturday it was cancelling lenient penalties for so-called “honour killings” and amending inheritance laws for residents. Photo/AFP

Doha, Monday

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has scrapped laws defending “honour” killings, in a major reform of the country’s criminal law.

Alcohol restrictions have been eased and a ban on unmarried couples cohabiting has been lifted.

The UAE has toughened penalties for the killing of women by family members as part of an overhaul of the country’s Islamic laws.

The UAE’s government said it would repeal a law that allowed judges to issue lenient sentences for such killings.

They usually involve the murder of women perceived to have brought dishonour upon relatives.

So-called “honor crimes” will now be publishable like any other crimes in the UAE after the Gulf state announced a sweeping overhaul of its Islamic legal code on Saturday.

In many Arab countries, “honour crimes” carry weaker penalties. The widely criticized custom means that male relatives may evade prosecution for assaulting or killing a woman who is seen as “dishonoring” a family.

The UAE will no longer have separate sentencing guidelines for “honour” killings, which previously carried reduced punishments of between three and 15 years in prison

In the future, those convicted will face life imprisonment or the death penalty. The only exception is if the victim’s family waives its right to “retribution,” but even in that case the penalty will be a minimum of seven years.

Such crimes will be treated like murder from now on, the UAE’s government said.

Human rights groups say that every year thousands of women across the world are killed because they are deemed to have brought shame on their family.

They cite sex outside marriage, even if only alleged, as one common reason for this type of killing.

Murders such as these are sometimes called “honour killings”, but that description has been criticised by those who argue it is an inappropriate way to describe the deaths.

Imposing stricter sentences for such killings showed the UAE’s “solid commitment to protecting women’s rights”, the official WAM news agency reported.

The amendment to the Gulf state’s legal code was one of a package of reforms approved by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday, WAM said.

One of the reforms will give foreign residents in the country the right to choose their own laws for inheritance and wills.

This, the news agency said, will “achieve financial stability for foreign investors in the country”.

The UAE will also decriminalise “acts that do not harm others”, WAM said, without giving further details.

The reforms, WAM said, will “entrench the principles of tolerance in the society”.

The announcement follows a historic US-brokered deal to normalise diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel.    - Agencies

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