Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
  • Criminalises the gender identity/expression of trans people
  • Death penalty applies
Federal Penal Code, Article 359

Article 359 of the Federal Penal Code criminalises the gender expression of transgender people. It states that any male disguised in a female apparel” can be sentenced to a maximum of 1 year imprisonment and/or a fine of 10,000 dirhams.1

Criminal Code of Abu Dhabi 1970, Article 80 Unnatural Sex

While same-sex activity is not criminalised, Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Criminal Code criminalises “unnatural sex with another person” with a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. Homosexual acts are criminalised through this provision.2

Criminal Code of Dubai 1970, Article 177 Sodomy

Article 177 of the Dubai Criminal Code prohibits sodomy, with a penalty of ten years imprisonment for violation.3

Sharia Law

Sharia Law imposes penalties for same-sex sexual conduct between men and between women. In theory the death penalty can be applied.4



The US Department of State Human Rights Report states that under Sharia law, individuals who engage in same-sex sexual activity can be punished with the death penalty, although there were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity and cases were publicly reported during the year.


A 2014 report by the Fahamu Refugee Programme indicates that the death penalty has never been applied for consensual same-sex sex.


The 2013 US Department of State Human Rights Report in the UAE found that the law is actively enforced, with individuals being prosecuted during the year. According to the report, a number of individuals were forced into “psychological treatment” and “counselling” against their will. These practices have long been recognised in the UAE, and the United States publicly condemned these practices in a 2005 press release. The report suggests that transgender individuals were also prosecuted.

In 2013, one man was allegedly placed on trial for a “gay” handshake.

Statements by Public Figures


In February, a video allegedly demonstrating how to “cure” gay people was removed from YouTube. The resulting press coverage was praised by LGBT groups within the country, with the chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights UAE (GLBTR UAE) group commenting: “The removal of that video is a milestone even though we are talking about something virtual on YouTube. The publication of an article in the local press and attention it got is unprecedented.” An article on the video’s removal was reportedly retweeted by influential figures within the UAE.[i]

In November, Abdul Ghaffar Hussain, chairman of United Arab Emirates Human Rights Association, was criticised by LGBT groups for comments he made which were thought to be referencing LGBT rights. Speaking on the nature of human rights, Hussain commented: “Such freedoms do not yield any positive outcomes rather these are meaningless social and political freedoms which only result in controversies rather than a decent standard of living… Let us set aside the strange calls that do not match the ambitions and aspirations of rational Emirati citizens… The UAE is determined to press ahead towards achieving social justice and security, and protecting the country from all forms of evil and social diseases.”

Let us set aside the strange calls that do not match the ambitions and aspirations of rational Emirati citizens.

Abdul Ghaffar Hussain, UAE Human Rights Association Chairman

Persecution and Discrimination


In November, staff and students at the University of Birmingham warned that LGBT rights are not adequately protected at its new campus in Dubai. Although the university has committed to giving staff and students at the Dubai branch, which opened in September, the same rights under its internal polices as they would enjoy in the UK, its ability to provide protection to anyone reported to the Emirate’s authorities for breaking the law, whether on or off campus, will be limited, the LGBT committee warned in a briefing.


In August, UAE police detained two Singaporeans in a shopping mall, a cisgender male photographer and a trans woman. A court convicted them of crimes and sentenced them to one year in prison “for attempting to resemble women.” The UAE deported them on August 28 after they spent nearly three weeks in custody, much of that time in a cell they said was designated for “effeminate” people.

Legislative News


During its third UPR cycle, the UAE received recommendations concerning the need to provide protection for LGBT persons and prevent discrimination against them. These recommendations will be examined by the state, which will provide responses in due time.


In September, the country opposed the 2014 UN Human Rights Council resolution on combating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


During its second UPR cycle, the country rejected recommendations to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations, stating: “The latter are recommendations to which the State is not in a position to comply with at this stage, because their incompatibility with the application of the provisions of the Islamic Sharia or the national constitutional and legal legislation, or their inconsistency with the value and civilizational system of the UAE society are not considered to be within the universally agreed basic principles of human rights.”

1. Article 359, Federal Penal Code

Shall be sentenced to detention for a maximum period of one year and/or to a fine not in excess of ten thousands dirhams… any male disguised in a female apparel and enters in this disguise a place reserved for women or where entry is forbidden, at that time, for other than women. Should the male perpetrate a crime in this condition, this shall be considered an aggravating circumstance.” Full text.

2. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, State-Sponsored Homophobia, 2017

Available here.

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