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UAE scraps ‘honour’ defence in sweeping legal overhaul

It also raised penalties for rape, sexual harassment

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 7, 2020 | Last Updated: 12 months ago
Posted: Nov 7, 2020 | Last Updated: 12 months ago

The United Arab Emirates scrapped reduced sentences for so-called “honour” killings in a sweeping overhaul of criminal and family law announced on Saturday. 

The oil-rich Gulf state also lifted a ban on unmarried couples living together and eased restrictions on alcohol consumption, while raising the penalties for rape and sexual harassment.

The legal systems of many Arab countries provide for reduced penalties for “honour” crimes, victims of which are mostly women seen as having brought “dishonour” on their families. 

But in the UAE, “honour” crimes will now be punishable like any other. 

There will no longer be separate sentencing guidelines for “honour” killings, which previously provided for jail terms of between three and 15 years, according to Emirati media.

Those convicted will face the death penalty or life imprisonment, unless the victim’s family waives its right to “retribution”, in which case the penalty will be at least seven years in jail.

Human rights groups and women’s organisations have long campaigned for the scrapping of the “honour” defence, which they say allows male murderers of women to get off lightly.

Other reforms approved by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan included changes to the sentencing guidelines for other offences targeting women.

Harsher penalties will be stipulated in cases of harassment, while those convicted of “rape of a minor” or of “someone with a limited mental capacity” will face the death penalty, Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported. 

Expatriates, who make up some 90 percent of the UAE population, will be able to ask for their own country’s law to be applied in cases of divorce and inheritance.

Penalties will no longer be imposed against those found drinking alcohol without a licence.

Renowned for its futuristic skyscrapers and shopping malls, the UAE has developed the most diverse economy in the Gulf but is heavily dependent on foreign tourism and its large expatriate workforce.

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