What are the laws when it comes to charity and volunteering in the UAE?
Yes, 2017 is the Year of Giving, but where do you stand legally when it comes to charity and helping out in the UAE?
2017 is the Year of Giving in the UAE – a year where we are encouraged, quite rightly, to help those around us as much as we can.
But how to help without crossing the UAE’s legal bounds can be confusing territory, with laws recently established in the Emirates to quell fake charities and those who use money for nefarious means. So that you know where you stand, we spoke to Rima Mrad, partner at Dubai-based law firm BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates, to get some clarity on the matter…
Is setting up an online fundraising page in the UAE legal?
Fundraising online or otherwise is a restricted activity in the UAE and can only be permitted if approved by the relevant authority and carried out by a registered charity allowed to collect donations and with a specific permit issued for that purpose (for example by the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities in Dubai or the other relevant authorities in the other emirates as applicable.)
Article No 27 of Federal Law No 5 of 2012 on combating cybercrimes stipulates that “whoever establishes, manages or runs a website or publishes information on the computer network or any information technology means to call or promote for the collection of donations without a license accredited by the competent authority shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not less than AED 200,000 and not in excess of AED 500,000 or either of these two penalties”.
Is helping out with your time, and volunteering for initiatives like the Ramadan Fridges for example, legal in the UAE? Or are there instances when it is not? (PLEASE NOTE: Ramadan Fridges are an approved, legal charity under the umbrella of the Red Crescent and so sharing information about, and contributing pre-packaged foods to them isn’t an issue).
This type of volunteering is personal, however under the UAE Civil Code, “any harm dome to another shall render the actor, even though not a person of discretion, liable to remedy the harm”.
For example if a person has been food poisoned as a result of consuming the food that is provided through a Ramadan fridge, then he can hold the organisers or the persons responsible for the provision of the food responsible and sue them for damages. In Dubai, any charitable activity is regulated by the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities and persons wishing to volunteer in any charitable initiative should ensure that the charity they are cooperating with is properly licensed in Dubai. In all cases, even if the action is carried out without any return and as a contribution towards the community, the person who is responsible for this act will ultimately be liable if it causes any harm to any other person. The public should only engage in these activities if they are ready to take on this liability and provided they are satisfied with the level of health and safety provided by the organisers. They also need to ensure that they have the necessary permits for any such activities, when and if needed.
Is sharing content about non-registered charities a criminal offense?
Sharing content or links about non-registered charities can be construed as a criminal offense depending on various factors. Simply and without any further analysis of the underlying facts, it is considered as a promotional activity. For example, if the content shared relates to a non-registered charity that is linked to terrorist organisations then the person who is promoting them can be involved on a criminal basis. The public should be aware not to share any links or content about charities collecting donations that are not properly licensed in the UAE. They should be extremely careful as this type of activities is strictly regulated.
What are the best legal ways to engage in charity in the UAE?
The public can be engaged through registered charities in the UAE or the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities who can guide them as to what they need to do to achieve their objectives. The Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities can even guide them to coordinate with certain charities to assist them promoting a cause or even organising a fundraising function.
How has the law changed recently when it comes to charity?
In 2015, Decree No 9 of 2015 was issued by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, prohibiting collection of donations or advertising of fund-raising campaigns through all forms of media without obtaining prior written approval from the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities. Penalties for violating the law will go from two months to one year in jail and/or a fine ranging from AED 5,000 to AED 100,000.
This decree came to regulate a new trend at that time where various non-registered and foreign charities started to directly promoting and collecting donations without any permit or license. This required the issuing of the above decree and reinforcement of the powers of the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable activities.