Human Rights violations in Dubai - Examples: Patrick Hoenicke &
Iradj El-Qalqili

the effect of Sharia Law in Dubai on Expatriates

Purpose of this website is to show that the indiscriminate application of Sharia law to personal affairs like marriage, divorce and custody in the UAE can result in disastrous consequences, even violations of human and fundamental rights.

Although the UAE Personal Status Law allows the application of the expatriates' laws - the horrible effect on the children entrapped in such a custody drama is demonstrated in various cases, e.g., in the cases of Patrick Hoenicke and Iradj El-Qalqili - that this is not necessary, can be seen in the case of Borja Brananova's family

CLARIFICATION: please visit tab "Gender Discrimination" as well. The very recent case of Princess Haya fleeing Dubai shows that, in a Divorce and Custody dispute, even members of the Royal Family prefer to leave Dubai. That tab also shows clearly some of the confusion in Dubai when it comes to balancing Gender Equality, Women's Rights and Human Rights.

Dubai presents itself as modern and liberal. Dubai is positioned as global hub, branded as an “expatriate’ paradise”. However, family courts are essentially applying Sharia-based law to expatriates. Despite the fact that expatriates have the right to have their personal affairs handled based on their own national laws, the highest court in Dubai has only recently for the first time ever decided in favor of joint custody – this is the case of Borja Brananova. Based on the UAE’s interpretation of Sharia law, mothers have essentially full control over children up until 11-13 years of age, even if the father was the main care taker before the divorce, e.g., in the case of Iradj El-Qalqili. Even the United Nations have publicly complained how the courts sometimes fail to look at the facts and the best interest of the child. Such court decisions easily and often lead to human rights violations. The court will usually assume that sole custody should be with the mother give sole custody to her, even before the divorce (e.g., in the case of Patrick Hoenicke). If there is ongoing conflict between the parents, this often leads to a situation, where the non-custodial parent is being excluded – the children lose one parent.

  • The UAE are an extremely welcoming place, home to residents from more than 200 nations (link)
  • The UAE are a young country and have made admirable progress in many areas, in particular in terms of economy (link)
  • The UAE have declared 2019 the “Year of Tolerance” (link)
  • The UAE Personal Status Law allows expatriate residents to use their own national law in front of courts in personal affairs (e.g., inheritance, marriage, divorce, custody…link)
  • However, the United Nations have voiced clear concerns (link) about the UAE’s justice system, in particular when it comes to human rights and the concept of “best interest of the child”
  • Applying the UAE’s Sharia-based laws to the personal affairs of expats can lead to undesirable outcomes – even the Head of the Personal Status Court indicates that the law is outdated and open to abuse (link)
  • Recently reports have been published internationally (link) showcasing individual family cases where the decisions of the Dubai Courts have resulted in Human Rights Violations

If the UAE really want to implement the “five pillars of the Year of Tolerance”, the government will ensure that the justice system upholds the rights of expatriates as per the UAE Personal Status Law. This would help to protect the expatriates’ human rights and be in line with the “five pillars”: deepen the values of tolerance and co-existence among cultures by teaching the youth the values of tolerance solidify the UAE as the global capital for tolerance through a series of initiatives, projects and dialogues between various cultures and civilisations implement multiple cultural programmes and make contributions to build tolerant communities focus on legislative and policy-oriented objectives that contribute to mandating cultural and religious tolerance via dialogue promote tolerance through targeted media initiatives and projects

  • To support the UAE and Dubai in particular on the path to implement the various visions of the government (e.g., Vision 2021, link) and to honor idea of 2019 as Year of Tolerance as declared by H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed we are asking the broader public to sign up to certain petitions
  • A large number of signatures on these petitions will help to raise awareness among all stakeholders: UAE government entities, the governments of expatriate residents as well as expats in the UAE
  • The aim of the petitions is not to cause conflict, but to show that there is a common interest between all parties involved and to give the UAE the opportunity to shine

Examples showing the effect of UAE Personal Status Law

The following cases have motivated us to raise our voices:

Max and Anna - iradj El-Qalqili

Max (5 years) and Anna (4 years) are German and Canadian citizens. They were born in Dubai and received Canadian passports directly after their birth. Their Canadian mother filed for divorce in early 2017 and removed the children from the matrimonial home…

Aryan - Patrick Hoenicke

Aryan (2 years) is a German and Indian citizen. He was born in Dubai and has both the German and Indian passport. Aryan‘s Indian mother removed him from the matrimonial home in March 2018 and blocks any kind of contact between the child and his father since November 2018…

child hand fence

other cases - Borja Brananova

Here you find the links to cases of other children… in particular to the case of Borja Brananova’s family

Please help by signing these two online petitions on


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  • Concerns about the justice system: “Despite commendable progress and achievements, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that the challenges and shortcomings she has identified are serious and negatively affect the delivery of justice, the enjoyment of human rights and the public’s confidence in the judiciary” (link)
  • Concerns about children’s rights, in particular the definition of the “Best Interest of the Child”, which is even used to justify child marriage: “The Committee reiterates its concern (see CRC/C/15/Add.183, para. 26) that the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration is not always respected, for example in matters relating to family law. The Committee is particularly concerned that judges often consider underage marriage as being in the best interests of the girl child, a situation which reveals a misunderstanding of the concept of best interests and leads to multiple violations of girls’ rights.” (paragraph 27, link)

UAE PERSONAL STATUS LAW - rooted in Sharia Law

The Personal Status Law of the UAE is based on Sharia law, but generously allow to use an expat’s law for private matters, while the UAE law assigns gender-specific roles to the parents. Since the entire court system is based on the Sharia, a UAE court has tremendous difficulties to award joint custody to ensure that both parents are consistently integral parts of a child’s life – just recently the highest court in Dubai awarded shared custody for the first time ever (after approx 3 years of legal proceedings). Even the Head of the Personal Status Court admits publicly that the Personal Status Law is outdated and permits abuse.

  • Article 1.2: “The provisions of this Law shall apply to citizens of the United Arab Emirates State unless non-Muslims among them have special provisions applicable to their community or confession. They shall equally apply to non-citizens unless one of them asks for the application of his law.” (link)
  • Articles 146 and 148 of the law for example give specific roles to father and mother – the mother is generally the “fosterer” or “custodian”, who is responsible for the daily care, while the father is usually the “tutor” or “guardian”, who is mainly and solely responsible for expenses. The Personal Status Law doesn’t contain any section enshrining any kind of visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. As per the UAE-interpretation of Sharia law, custody can (but doesn’t have to) be transferred to the father, when the children turn 11 years (for boys) or 13 years (for girls). Effectively, both parents are individually separated from the child for several years
  • “Significant amendments needed in the law“ – including the custody for children and the question if they can stay at least temporarily at the father’s house
  • Abuse is easily possible, the court has no tool to deal with parental alienation: “Children are being used as weapons” – “we find that the mother incites the children against their father…. And vice versa… we urge such kind of spouses to fear God and to get wise to raise children”

Please see the interview here in English translation (pdf)


Did something similar happen to you? Do you want to get involved in supporting Human Rights in Dubai? Do you have any questions?

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