United Arab Emirates: Situation of sexual minorities, including social attitudes and treatment by authorities; support services (2014-July 2016) [ARE105573.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Legislation

According to a survey conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) and the global survey technology company RIWI Corp. between December 2015 and January 2016 in 53 countries, including in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on a sample of over 700 participants in each country, there are "seriously hostile environments to LGBTI people" in the UAE (ILGA and RIWI Corp. 2016, 5). According to sources, all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage are "banned" in the UAE (ILGA June 2016, 119; Antigaylaws.org n.d.b). Sources indicate that homosexual acts are illegal in the UAE (ibid.; Detained in Dubai n.d.b; US 13 Apr. 2016, 27). According to an English translation of the 1987 Penal Code, available on the website of Dubai-based law firm Al-Mubasheri, Chapter V of Part Six of the Code, titled Crimes Committed Against Honor, contains the following provisions:

Article (354)

Without prejudice to the provisions of the Juvenile Delinquents and Homeless Law, whoever resorts to coercion in sexual intercourse with a female or homosexuality with a male, shall be punished by the death penalty. A case of coercion shall arise if the victim at the time of the crime was under fourteen years of age.

Article (355)

Attempt to commit any of the crimes provided for in the preceding Article shall be punishable by life imprisonment.

Article (356)

Without prejudice to the preceding two Articles the crime of indecent assault with mutual consent shall be punished by detention for at least one year; however, if the crime is committed against a male or female who is under fourteen years of age, or if the crime is committed by coercion, it shall be punished by temporary imprisonment.

Article (357)

I[f] any of the crimes indicated in the preceding Articles has led to the death of the victim, the punishment shall be a death sentence.

Article (358)

Whoever openly commits an indecent and disgraceful act shall be punished by detention for a period of at least six months.

Whoever commits a disgraceful act with a girl or boy who has not completed fifteen years of age even if it is not committed openly, shall be punished by detention for at least a period of one year.

Article (359)

Whoever attempts to disgrace a female by words or by deeds in a public street or frequented place shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding one year and by a fine not exceeding ten thousand Dirhams [approximately C$ 3,534], or by either of these two penalties.

The same penalty shall apply to any man who disguises himself in a woman's clothing and enters a place the entry into which is reserved for women. If a man in such a case commits a crime, it shall be considered an aggravating circumstance. (UAE 1987)

Amnesty International (AI) considers Article 354 "to address rape, not consensual same-sex sexual relations" (AI 4 July 2008, 48). Similarly, according to ILGA, no article in the penal code "specifically discusses consensual same-sex relations" (ILGA June 2016, 119). Antigaylaws.org, a website that provides information on countries that criminalize homosexuality, created by Dr. Paula Gerber, a professor at Monash University Law School in Melbourne, Australia, and an expert in the rights of sexual minorities (Antigaylaws.org n.d.a), states that

whether sodomy is punished with death penalty remains in dispute. The Arabic text of article 354 is ambiguously phrased and can be translated in different ways. Some sources indicate that the article punishes rape of a woman or forced sodomy with a man, while others indicate that it punishes rape on women and sodomy between men. (ibid. n.d.b)

However, sources indicate that the death penalty applies to same-sex sexual relations under Sharia law (US 13 Apr. 2016, 27; ILGA June 2016, 119), although the penalty has not yet been implemented (ibid., 11). According to sources, sodomy is punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment under Article 177 of the Dubai penal code and up to 14 years under Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi criminal code (ibid., 119; Ferchichi 2011, 6). In a report on laws on homosexuality in Arab countries, prepared for the Global Commission on HIV and the Law [1], Dr. Wahid Ferchichi, a professor of public law and a consultant for the International Center for Transitional Justice in Tunisia, indicates that the federal penal code and laws in the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras-al-Khaimah,

all incriminate male homosexual acts (no mention of lesbianism) without explaining what is meant by "act" ? whether it means "intercourse" or other acts of homosexual nature. This ambiguity allows for many interpretations and thus poses a serious risk to an individual's rights as well as social and professional status. (Ferchichi 2011, 2)

2. Societal Attitudes

According to a report submitted in 2014 by the government of the UAE to the UNAIDS Secretariat [2], "[o]verall, MSM [men who have sex with men] and homosexuality are rejected by [social] norms, criminalised by law, and surrounded by severe stigma and discrimination. … most MSM will avoid openly expressing their sexual identity and behaviours" (UAE 31 Mar. 2014, 18). Freedom House similarly states that "LGBT … people are subject to widespread social stigma and discrimination" (Freedom House 2016).

According to the ILGA and RIWI Corp. survey, 32 percent of the UAE respondents "strongly agree" and 13 percent "somewhat agree" that being an LGBTI should be a crime (ILGA and RIWI Corp. 2016, 1, 2, 5). The survey also reveals that 38 percent of respondents would feel "very uncomfortable," 24 percent would feel "somewhat uncomfortable" and 38 would have no concerns about having a gay or lesbian person as a neighbour (ibid., 9, 10).

An article on homosexuality in the UAE published on the website of Detained in Dubai, a London-based NGO that provides legal assistance to persons who have become "victims of injustice" in the UAE (Detained in Dubai n.d.a), indicates that while there are no "official gay clubs" in the UAE, "locations of unofficial gay clubs circulate on the Internet and men gather with little fear of the consequences" (Detained in Dubai n.d.b). According to the same source, "[t]here is a vibrant underground gay scene in Dubai," but

[w]hen the police find out about gay friendly clubs they get shut down fast, people get deported and punishments are likely imposed. Police reportedly frequent pubs and clubs with the intention of entrapping unsuspecting people. But, it’s not just the police who are entrapping homosexuals. There are stories of fundamentalists chatting online and meeting up with gay men and subsequently threatening to report them to the police. (ibid.)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Treatment by Authorities

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 state that "[t]here were reports of arrests for consensual same-sex activity" in the UAE in 2015 (US 13 Apr. 2016, 27). Sources report on the following examples of arrests and prosecution:

  • An April 2016 article by English-language newspaper Khaleej Times reports that a young man in Ras-Al-Khaimah emirate is facing a trial for "wearing female clothes to lure young men for sodomy" (Khaleej Times 7 Apr. 2016). According to the article, after receiving information from "security bodies," the local police "set a tight security trap" and arrested the man at his home (ibid.).
  • According to AI, in February 2015, two transgender women who were foreign nationals were charged with "being disguised as women and entering a place restricted only to women" (AI 2016, 383). They were put in jail, fined, and then deported (ibid.).
  • According to a January 2015 article by UAE-based English-language newspaper Gulf News, two female convicts, a Romanian and a Filipino, who were serving drug-related sentences in the Dubai Central Jail, were charged with "having a consensual lesbian relationship and indulging in acts of public indecency" and sentenced for an additional one month of jail each (Gulf News 14 Jan. 2015). The article states that the women would be deported after serving their sentences (ibid.).
  • A March 2014 article in the National, a newspaper owned by the Abu-Dhabi government (Abu Dhabi n.d.), reports that the Federal Supreme Court upheld a six-month jail sentence for two Muslim men who, according to the prosecutor's office, "had intentionally committed acts of sodomy, which was proven by forensic evidence" (The National 25 Mar. 2014). The article states that the prosecutor demanded that the accused be penalized "as per Shariah laws" and that the men would be deported after serving the sentence (ibid.).

Corroborating information on these incidents could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. State Efforts

According to Country Reports 2015, the government of the UAE did not take any actions to address potential discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (US 13 Apr. 2016, 27). Sources report that in 2015, the UAE adopted an anti-discrimination law, but that it does not include references to gender and sexuality (Human Rights Watch 2016, 604) or to sexual orientation (Gay Star News 23 July 2015). Further information on state efforts to protect sexual minorities could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. Support Services

Country Reports 2015 notes that "[d]ue to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held" in 2015 (US 13 Apr. 2016, 27). According to information posted on its Facebook page, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual Rights UAE (LGBT Rights UAE) is an NGO that was founded in March 2011 and whose mission is to "raise awareness, educate the public and allow open dialogue about the Universal Rights that belong to the LGBT community of the United Arab Emirates" (LGBT Rights UAE n.d.). Information on activities and support services offered by LGBT Rights UAE and on other LGBT NGOs could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is "an independent body, convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)" that provides analysis of "links between legal environments and HIV responses" (UN n.d.a).

[2] According to the UNAIDS Secretariat, member states adopted a new Political Declaration at the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS "which contained new targets to effectively respond to the AIDS epidemic" (UN n.d.b). Official reports have been submitted by member countries to the UNAIDS Secretariat for "the monitoring of progress towards the targets set" (ibid.).


Abu Dhabi. N.d. eGovernment Gateway. "Abu Dhabi Media (AD Media)." [Accessed 6 July 2016]

Amnesty International (AI). 2016. "United Arab Emirates 2015/2016." Amnesty International Report 2015/16: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Amnesty International (AI). 4 July 2008. Love, Hate and the Law. Decriminalizing Homosexuality. [Accessed 30 June 2016]

Antigaylaws.org. N.d.a. "About Professor Gerber." [Accessed 30 June 2016]

Antigaylaws.org. N.d.b. "Middle East." [Accessed 30 June 2016]

Detained in Dubai. N.d.a. "About Us." [Accessed 4 July 2016]

Detained in Dubai. N.d.b. "Homosexuality in the UAE." [Accessed 4 July 2016]

Ferchichi, Wahid. 2011. Law and Homosexuality: Survey and Analysis of Legislation Across the Arab World. [Accessed 29 June 2016]

Freedom House. 2016. "United Arab Emirates." Freedom in the World 2016. [Accessed 5 July 2016]

Gay Star News. 23 July 2015. David Hudson. "United Arab Emirates Introduces Discriminatory Non-Discrimination Law." [Accessed 30 June 2016]

Gulf News. 14 January 2015. Bassam Za'za'. "Women Prisoners at Dubai Jail Sentenced over Lesbian Affair." [Accessed 5 July 2016]

Human Rights Watch. 2016. "United Arab Emirates." World Report 2016: Events of 2015. [Accessed 4 July 2016]

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). June 2016. Aengus Carroll. State-sponsored Homophobia 2016: A World Survey of Sexual Orientation Laws: Criminalisation, Protection and Recognition. [Accessed 5 July 2016]

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) and RIWI Corp. 17 May 2016. The ILGA-RIWI 2016 Global Attitudes Survey on LGBTI People in Partnership with Logo. [Accessed 4 July 2016]

Khaleej Times. 7 April 2016. Ahmed Shaaban. "Youth on Trial in RAK Court for Posing as Woman." [Accessed 5 July 2016]

LGBT Rights UAE, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual Human Rights in the UAE. N.d. "About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transexual Rights UAE." [Accessed 29 June 2016]

The National. 25 March 2014. Anwar Ahmad. "UAE Court Upholds Six-Month Jail Term for Homosexual Men." [Accessed 5 July 2016]

United Arab Emirates (UAE). 31 March 2014. Ministry of Health. United Arab Emirates – Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2014. [Accessed 30 June 2016]

United Arab Emirates (UAE). 1987. Federal Law No (3) of 1987 on Issuance of the Penal Code. [Accessed 29 July 2016]

United Nations (UN). N.d.a. Global Commission on HIV and the Law. "Overview." [Accessed 29 June 2016]

United Nations (UN). N.d.b. UNAIDS. "2014 Progress Reports Submitted by Countries." [Accessed 30 June 2016]

United States (US). 13 April 2016. Department of State. "United Arab Emirates." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015. [Accessed 29 June 2016]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: ILGA; LGBT Rights UAE; OutRight International; Professor, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney.

Internet sites, including: Al Jazeera; Council for Global Equality; Dubai – Official Government Portal; ecoi.net; EQUALDEX; Erasing 76 Crimes; Factiva; Gay Law Net; Global Gayz; The Guardian; Huffington Post; Human Rights First; Islam and Homosexuality; Muslims for Progressive Values; National Center for Lesbian Rights; Pew Research Center; Pink News; United Arab Emirates – Official Government Portal; United Nations – Free and Equal, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNAIDS, Refworld.

Associated documents