A Norwegian interior designer who said she was raped by a Sudanese colleague during a business trip to the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai earlier this year has been “pardoned” from her conviction and 16-month sentence for extramarital sex, drinking alcohol and providing false information to authorities.
The decision Monday in the name of the Emirati ruler in Dubai cleared the way for 24-year-old Marte Deborah Dalelv to return to her Nordic homeland. But it in no way reflected a change in the Islamic federation’s laws or practices that typically treat women against whom sexual violence is committed as criminals rather than victims. The 33-year-old Sudanese man, who was also convicted of extramarital sex and drinking, was also pardoned.
Dalelv’s case again highlighted the perils of Western visitors ignoring religious-influenced laws and mores in the Gulf region, where rapid development of high-end tourism facilities increasingly confronts foreign visitors with the clashing social ideology of ultraconservative Islam.
In a statement from the Emirates Center for Human Rights, the head of a campaign to reform the Gulf state’s archaic laws governing sex-crime prosecutions lamented that Dalelv’s conviction remains in place. The Associated Press and BBC both reported that Dalelv had to agree to drop her appeal of the conviction in exchange for getting back her passport and permission to leave the country.
Dalelv, who brought her case to the attention of Western and Gulf media, reported to local authorities in March that she had been raped by a colleague after an evening out with several fellow business travelers. But because prosecution of sexual violence against women in the UAE requires either the perpetrator’s confession or eyewitness accounts of at least four men, authorities tend instead to charge the victim with engaging in proscribed extramarital sex.
“Until laws are reformed, victims of sexual violence in the UAE will continue to suffer in this way, and we will likely see more cases such as this one,” said Rori Donaghy, spokesman for the London-based rights center.
Dalelv’s case was hardly the first in which the report of a sexual attack boomeranged on the victim. A 23-year-old British woman on vacation in Dubai in January 2010 reported that she was raped in the restroom of a hotel bar by a waiter, who followed her there after watching her drink with her fiance. She, too, was charged for having premarital sex with her boyfriend during the tourist visit. No charges were brought against the waiter.
Three years ago, an 18-year-old Emirati woman who said she had been gang-raped by six men including a police officer was sentenced to a year in prison by an Abu Dhabi court.
In 2008, an Australian woman working at a resort in the Gulf state drew a yearlong sentence for sex crimes after she was reportedly drugged and gang-raped.
Human Rights Watch has called on the oil-rich UAE to reform its laws to protect rather than punish victims of sexual violence, a problem that discourages many of the foreign domestic workers in the country from reporting rapes.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide heralded the end of Dalelv’s ordeal but called the Gulf state’s handling of the case “unacceptable.”
Eide pointed out in an interview with Norway’s NTB news agency that he had been engaged with Emirati officials since learning about the charges brought against Dalelv and suggested that other rape victims in the Gulf region remained vulnerable to the vagaries of Islamic-influenced laws.