By Regan Doherty
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The judicial system of the United Arab Emirates is "under the de facto control of the executive branch of the government", a U.N. envoy said on Wednesday, expressing concern about reports of prosecutors being influenced by state security services.
Gabriela Knaul, the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, raised the allegations at a news conference in Abu Dhabi and said they were based on information she had collected on a nine-day visit to study the Gulf Arab state's justice system.
Her visit follows repeated allegations of judicial failings voiced by human rights groups monitoring the arrests of dozens of suspected Islamists over the past 1-1/2 years amid government worries about a spillover of Arab unrest.
Knaul, making the first information-gathering visit to the UAE by an independent expert designated by the U.N. Human Rights Council , made no mention of these specific cases.
But she said that on her visit she had received credible reports of ill-treatment and torture. She said further that she was concerned by reports that authorities arresting people for alleged crimes against state security had "almost systematically" violated due-process and fair-trial guarantees which existed under national and international law.
In a statement in response, the UAE justice ministry said the independence of the judiciary was guaranteed by the constitution and the country was committed to strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights.
"POLITICALLY MOTIVATED CAMPAIGN"
The statement quoted Assistant Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs Abdul Rahim al Awadi as saying: "We regret that some comments of the Special Rapporteur were based on information from undisclosed sources and were consistent with the politically motivated campaign of certain groups to tarnish the reputation of the UAE."
This had made it difficult to evaluate the credibility and impartiality of this information and hence the validity of the issues raised, Awadi was quoted as saying.
Still, the UAE would continue to engage constructively with Knaul in carrying out her mandate, he said. Knaul had sent a preliminary report to the ministry and this would be studied.
Knaul, whose mandate is to report on the independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, made no reference to a number of recent trials of Islamists that rights groups criticized for alleged unfairness and abuse of detainees.
Knaul urged the creation of an independent committee to investigate claims of ill-treatment and torture. Such a committee should have access to all places of detention and be able to interview detainees in private, she said.
Dozens of suspected Islamists have been detained in recent years, indicating government concerns about contagion from the Arab Spring unrest that toppled several Arab heads of state from 2011. The trials were widely seen as a bid to tackle what the UAE sees as a threat from the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
On July 2, 2013, 61 convicted coup plotters received jail terms of up to 10 years after a trial that targeted Islamists, a judgment rights groups said showed growing intolerance.
On January 21, 30 Emiratis and Egyptians were convicted of setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to up to five years in jail.
(Reporting By Regan Doherty; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)