Committee against Torture hears replies of Qatar

Committee against Torture

6 November 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the replies of Qatar to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to questions raised by Committee members on Monday, 5 November, the delegation of Qatar, led by Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Jabr Al Thani, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said the State party was committed to implementing the provisions of all treaties and conventions it had ratified.  In light of this, Qatar had developed a landmark national strategy encompassing the enactment of several laws such as that prohibiting the use of children in camel racing and the law protecting victims of trafficking.  Labour was also governed by strict rules, the delegation said, pointing to the Labour Code, which defined relevant minimal rights, and the work of the Department of Labour Relations, which considered complaints.  Noteworthy were also the establishment of a specialized office guiding workers in claiming their rights and the development of a draft law on domestic workers which was currently being examined. 

The delegation of Qatar consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Public Prosecution, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour, the Supreme Council of Health, the Bureau of Human Rights, the Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Qatar will be issued towards the end of the session, which concludes on 23 November.

The Committee’s next public meeting will be at 10 p.m. on Thursday, 7 November when the Committee will consider the second periodic report of Tajikistan (CAT/C/TJK/2).

Response of the Delegation of Qatar

In response to questions raised by Committee members on Monday, 5 November, the delegation said Qatari law criminalized all acts of violence and provided for capital punishment or life imprisonment for sexual assault or harm.  If perpetrators were part of the victim’s immediate environment, they would be sanctioned with capital punishment.  Those engaging in intercourse with a woman under the age of 16, without threatening her but knowing her age, would be imprisoned for life.  

A woman did not need to obtain the permission of her guardian to report abuse, the delegation went on to say.  The Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection was a key actor in this area of human rights.  It strengthened the rights of children and women through the provision of comprehensive care, encompassing social, psychological and legal services and the provision of safe shelters and a helpline.  Training was also undertaken to maximize the discovery of cases of violence, neglect or abuse of women and children.  Those in contact with potential victims were not only well-informed about how to detect such cases, but also how to interview potential victims and how to report such crimes.  It was also noteworthy in this context that the Foundation for Child and Women Protection had in 2010 established a safe house.  That safe house cared for victims of violence and abuse, rehabilitated and reintegrated them and provided health and social services.  So far, 322 women had been sheltered. 

Qatar was committed to implementing the provisions of all treaties and conventions it had ratified, the delegation stressed.  In light of this, Qatar had developed a landmark national strategy encompassing the enactment of several laws, with the most important one being the law prohibiting the use of children in camel racing.  Since the adoption of that law, children had been replaced by robots as jockeys and no contraventions had been recorded.  Another piece of legislation included rules and principles to protect victims and punish perpetrators of trafficking in persons.  Based on this law authorities must provide for the physical and mental safety of victims and their rehabilitation and the reintegration into their communities.  In this context it was noteworthy that Qatar had launched an initiative in collaboration with the League of Arab States and other stakeholders to establish regional partnerships to combat human trafficking.

Turning to labour guarantees, the delegation explained that complaints submitted by workers were studied immediately.  The Labour Code defined minimal rights for work regarding compensation, occupational accidents and termination of service.  Complaints were received, processed and settled by the department of labour relations.  If the complaints could not be settled, they came before the judiciary.  It was clearly enshrined in Qatari law that employers did not have the right to confiscate passports of migrant workers.  Authorities were attempting to broaden the legal protection and to facilitate follow-up of cases going to different tribunals and courts.  An office within the tribunal had been set up this year to guide workers in submitting complaints and claiming their rights, to provide translators and interpreters, to offer free legal advice to workers, and to finish up complaints before the courts.  Over the past six months, the office had followed 507 cases and translated documents for 858 workers.  A number of companies were forced to appear before the courts as they had not respected the rights of workers.  Efforts in the labour area also included last year’s adoption of the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.  The Government was currently studying a draft law on domestic workers to ensure compliance with international labour standards. 

Turning to health issues raised by Committee Experts, the delegation said after Qatar had acceded to the Convention against Torture its national health committee had disseminated guidelines to all health care institutes.  Under these guidelines, which also drew on the Istanbul Protocol, health facilities must inform authorities whenever they saw persons bearing the traces of torture.  Health care institutions did indeed routinely report this information – if they did not, they were liable to prosecution.  In this context the delegation also referred to the Covenant on the Rights and Duties of Patients and their Families, which enshrined the fundamental principles to the right to health, including the right to dignified health care, and the right to privacy and medical confidentiality.  Noteworthy was also the establishment of emergency services in the capital by the Interior Ministry.  These had been set up to facilitate decision-making in this area, particularly in cases where it was confirmed that torture had occurred. 

As far as mental health was concerned, Qatar had in place a plan which addressed the issue very clearly, said the delegation.  The aim of this plan was to reduce the occurrence of serious mental problems and the factors leading thereto, to increase patient support structures and to strengthen patients’ capacity to participate in society, while raising awareness among the general population to avoid the marginalization of people suffering from mental health problems.  The rights of patients and their families were also reflected in a specific charter.  The document stipulated that all patients were equal – regardless of their religion, age, language or disability – and that they were entitled to services in accordance with their illness.  According to the charter, patients shall benefit from medical assistance without any unnecessary delay.  If a delay could not be avoided, patients were allowed to transfer to another hospital.

The definition of torture was of paramount importance for Qatar, the delegation underlined.  The definition was in accordance with clear standards which may not be withdrawn at times of crimes and they also applied to civil servants.  Qatar was aware that without a clear-standing definition, the State would be unable to shoulder its key obligations.  It was for these reasons that Qatar had amended its legislative texts to introduce a specific definition of torture on the basis of the first article of the Convention.  This definition would not be amended. 

The reservations to the Convention issued by Qatar were undergoing a consultation process.  The reservations could be divided into two categories: objective reservations based on Sharia law and procedural reservations as regarded the competence of the Committee.  From Qatar’s viewpoint, the current reservations did not prevent people from being protected as stipulated in the Convention. 

Reacting to concerns expressed by the Committee regarding the appointment of judges, the delegation clarified that, by law, there shall be no infringement of the independence of judges.  All judges, including non-Qatari judges, were appointed by the Emir.  Judges shall not be removed. 

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

FELICE GAER, the Committee Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, thanked the delegation for its wonderful responses, noting, however, that some questions remained unaddressed.  She had not heard anything about the composition and funding of the national human rights committee, for instance. 

Ms. Gaer was impressed by the efforts undertaken to protect women and children, notably the establishment of a free hotline.  Noting that out of the 9,434 calls, 6,000 were made by women who had been victims of violence, the Rapporteur wondered how many cases had been transferred to the Public Prosecutor.  Similarly, were there any cases where migrant workers had been exploited by their employers and had employers been sanctioned for confiscating passports and for acts of torture or ill-treatment of their employees?

The Rapporteur was concerned about information about flogging, as notably denounced by Amnesty International, which ascertained that this practice remained wide-spread in Qatar.

ESSADIA BELMIR, the Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, took note of Qatar’s achievements regarding trafficking in persons.  There was cooperation at various levels in helping the procedures to unfold.  But the question was: what was the direct role of the authorities, what work was being done to directly combat trafficking?  The Committee needed more information about the point of convergence between judicial authorities, other state institutions, and the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking.

Another Expert said he had not received an answer to his questions about the crimes for which isolation cells were being used, the size of such cells, and how long people were being detained in them.  The Expert also noted that, according to the delegation, Qatar had withdrawn its reservations to articles 21 and 22 of the Convention.  Could the delegation clarify when this had happened?  According to the records of the United Nations, the reservations were still on. 

A Committee member expressed concern about the independence of the judiciary, particularly the contractual and statutory guarantees protecting judges from the precarious nature of their situation.

An Expert expressed concern about the procedural guarantees regarding the placement in detention.

Response by the Delegation

In response to these and other questions and issues, the delegation said the Qatari Penal Code stipulated the principle of territoriality and the application of universal jurisdiction outside the State.

As far as interrogation and methods of detention were concerned, the Constitution detailed the guarantees of personal freedom which should not be comprised.  Article 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure required that the judicial police must hear the accused immediately.  If there was sufficient proof to charge the individual within 24 hours, the prosecution must act within that timeframe, ordering either provisional detention or release. 

The prosecution used all technical means to document the interrogation.  Videos were indeed being used for important cases.  For instance, when the scene of a crime was visited, this was filmed. 

The delegation confirmed that the Emir had indeed signed the withdrawal of reservations to the Convention and that this document had been transmitted to the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General. 

Incommunicado detention was a disciplinary measure which was gradual in nature.  There could first be a warning, followed by the cutting off of certain services or a punishment involving demotion and, at the end of this sequence, incommunicado detention could be ordered for a limited period of time.

Many instances of training had covered issues related to torture and Qatar sought to engage all segments of the country to ensure better training.  Efforts were being made to ensure that all information on prohibiting and preventing torture would be provided to people working with those deprived of their liberty. 

In closing, the delegation said Qatari national legislation criminalized clearly any and all forms of torture.  Qatar had a system for providing redress to victims and enabling them to receive medical treatment.  The fact that there were no reports of torture had never stopped authorities from developing legislation as well as executive and judicial orders.  Qatar attached great importance to developing its performance and the comments and recommendations made by the Committee after the first debate had been a motive to review its reservations regarding the provisions of the Convention. 

For use of the information media; not an official record