Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination 1st March 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined thirtieth to sixteenth periodic report of Qatar on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Khaled Bin Jasem Al-Thani, Head of the Delegation and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said that Qatar was fully committed to ensuring the enjoyment of all human rights by its people and the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Qatar was therefore attaching great importance to its full cooperation with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Constitution of Qatar, adopted by referendum in 2003, had devoted an entire section to rights and freedoms, and Qatar had ratified the main core international human rights treaties, and had also adopted measures ensuring their implementation. Further, policies were implemented to continue efforts for the protection of vulnerable groups, including female and child victims of domestic violence. The Government was making particular efforts to combat human trafficking and to promote interfaith dialogue.
During the discussion, Committee Experts commended the spectacular socio-economic evolution of Qatar during recent years, and recognised the notable improvement of the human rights situation in the country since the submission of Qatar’s last periodic report. However, several issues remained of concern. Several Experts were concerned about the legislation on statelessness, which denied women the right to pass on their nationality to their children, and asked what restrictions were imposed on the right for foreigners to join professional organizations. Experts noted that there was discrimination against women in inheritance law. Experts raised concerns on the situation of migrant workers, who constituted a very important part of the population, and were vulnerable to human trafficking or forced labour. Experts commended the fact that the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar had made a presentation during the session, and thanked it for its clear recommendations to the Qatari Government.
In concluding remarks, José Francisco Calitzai, Country Rapporteur for Qatar, said that although the human rights situation had considerably improved in Qatar, the Committee remained concerned about several human rights issues, such as the situation of migrant and domestic workers, the situation of women and children, and the application of nationality laws that could lead to statelessness.
Mr. Al-Thani, in concluding remarks, said the Government would seriously consider all the recommendations made by the Committee and had the political will to implement all the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The delegation of Qatar consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour, the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Council of Education, the Supreme Council of Health, the Supreme Council for Family Affairs and the Permanent Representation of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 1 March, when it will consider the combined thirteenth to seventeenth periodic reports of Jordan (CERD/C/JOR/13-17).
The combined thirteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Qatar can be read here (CERD/C/QAT/13-16).
Presentation of the Report
KHALED BIN JASEM AL-THANI, Head of the Delegation and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said Qatar viewed with satisfaction the role of the Committee in supporting States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Qatar considered the examination by the Committee as a precious opportunity for self criticism. The report of Qatar set the context of, and described the national framework related to, the fight against racial discrimination in Qatar, and described measures undertaken by the States to comply with its obligations under international law.
The State of Qatar was committed to an open and productive dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and measures in the fields of education, health, environment, the rights of migrant workers and empowerment of women had been adopted. In addition, the Constitution, adopted by referendum in 2003, had devoted an entire section to rights and freedom. The right to litigation and the independence of the judiciary were also guaranteed and Qatar had ratified many international human rights treaties, and adopted measures ensuring their implementation.
Numerous institutions working on the promotion and protection of human rights had been established, he explained, and policies were implemented to further efforts for the protection of vulnerable groups, including female and child and victims of domestic violence. The issue of children with disabilities had been addressed, and several programs were in place to protect them.
The International Doha Centre on Interfaith Dialogue and the Centre for Dialogue among Civilizations were recently established to promote dialogue among different cultures and faiths, constituting a means to fight racial discrimination, and other measures had also been adopted in this area, such as the promotion of the right to education and the right to health. Education was a major pillar of the society, he said, and education was compulsory and free of charge, without discrimination of any kind, either on faith, race or gender. A National Plan for Education for All had been adopted in 2003.
The healthcare system had been considerably improved and the right to access medical healthcare was guaranteed as one of the priorities of the Government, he said. In addition, labour laws ensured the rights of migrant workers. In this vein, the State had ratified many of the core international human rights treaties and a number of International Labour Organization conventions, as well as taken measures to provide legal assistance to domestic workers. The Labour Relations Department was independent and judged disputes between workers and their bosses and measures had also been undertaken in the field of combating human trafficking. The protection of migrant workers from forced labour was considered an important issue.
The Government had the political will to promote cultural and interfaith dialogue, to promote tolerance and to facilitate integration processes in Qatar. An independent body had been established to combat corruption and a National Human Rights Institution was in place, working independently in accordance with the Paris Principles.
Questions from Experts
JOSE FRANCISCO CALITZAI, Country Rapporteur for Qatar, asked what proportion of the Qatari population had the right to vote where migrant workers represented 85 per cent of the population, and 70 per cent of the population were men. Women had equal rights under the new Constitution, he noted, and enquired about whether they had the right to transmit their nationality to their children.
The Rapporteur then asked for details about measures adopted to combat human trafficking, noting he regretted the fact that there was no definition of racial discrimination in the legal system. He then asked whether progress made in the field of labour law had had a positive impact on the rights of migrant workers, and said the lack of data on legal complaints was problematic since it could suggest that people had no trust in the judiciary. The Rapporteur also enquired if there were any judiciary trained in the dispositions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and about the number of stateless people in Qatar.
Further, the Rapporteur asked for details on the situation of the Evangelical and Orthodox Churches, and on land rights, saying it was a source of concern that most non-Qataris did not have property rights, and migrant workers did not have the right to form or to join trade unions.
Several Experts were concerned about the legislation on statelessness, which denied women the right to pass on their nationality to their children, and asked what restrictions were imposed on the right for foreigners to join professional organizations. Experts noted that there was discrimination against women in inheritance law, and said there were also some differences in treatment between the Qatari and those that had obtained the nationality in the area of housing. An Expert asked whether women in Qatar could adopt children without the consent of their husband.
An Expert regretted that the demographic data provided by the Government in its periodic report were not detailed enough, particularly concerning the origins and living place of foreigners and migrant workers. Hate speech and the publication of blasphemy materials were prohibited in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, it was highlighted, but more precise definitions of those crimes were needed.
It was also enquired as to whether efforts had been made to consider the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review to fight the de facto discrimination against migrant workers and women, and if the same legal regime applied to people who were born Qatari as those that gained the nationality. In addition, how did laws on racial discrimination apply to non-citizens in practice and what sort of measures were taken to address discrimination against migrant women, it was asked
Another Expert raised questions around the implications of Sharia law in practice, whether corporal punishment was implemented and if religious freedom in Qatar included the right not to follow any religion at all.
It was also mentioned by an Expert that the Law on Publications prohibiting hate speech and blasphemy did not fully meet the requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and it was asked whether the National Human Rights institution had a complaint mechanism at the disposal of victims of discrimination, and for details of the hierarchy between the Convention and domestic norms.
An Expert regretted that the very powerful Qatari television channel Al Jazeera did not do more towards the denunciation of Islamophobia or Arabophobia.
Many Experts commended the spectacular socio-economic evolution of Qatar during recent years, and recognised the notable improvement of the situation of human rights in the country since the submission of Qatar’s last periodic report. It was also noted with satisfaction that the National Human Rights Institution of Qatar was going to make a presentation to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Delegation of Qatar was congratulated for accepting to do this.
Response by the Delegation
A delegate said that there was great interest in teaching human rights, including non-discrimination, at school. Human rights were included in the curricula by various means, and activities were also organised in parallel to schooling. Within this, schools had the freedom to choose their education programmes among national educational programmes proposed by the State, including training in human rights, Arabic, English, Science and others.
Values such as respect, peace or tolerance were given high importance in these programmes, many of which were organised to disseminate the content of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or information on international human rights instruments, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Youth associations in school also participated to the process of disseminating information and raised awareness on human rights, said the delegate. There was no discrimination in access to education.
Presentation by Members of the National Human Rights Committee
Members of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar said that the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar had played an increasing role in gathering information and making recommendations on human rights issues in recent years, and the comments made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the periodic report submitted by Qatar would be a constructive help for the Government to improve the situation of human rights in the country.
The last 10 years had seen significant progress in the field of human rights, although there were some challenges remaining. Though, for example, the situation of women in Qatar was very advanced compared to other countries and the right to participate to elections was guaranteed for all citizens, there were discriminations between Qatari natives and naturalised persons, where naturalised persons could not participate to elections.
Children of Qatari women should have the right to inherit their mother’s nationality, it was said, yet Article 34 of the Law on Nationality did not grant Qatari women the ability to do this, despite the principle of gender equality guaranteed under the Constitution. Further, a decision of the Council of Ministers discriminated naturalised Qataris on the right of housing, there were restrictions on the right for foreigners to join public associations and there were challenges concerning freedom to exit the country, since visas were required.
Response by the Delegation
HALED BIN JASEM AL-THANI, Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, thanked the representatives of the National Human Rights Committee and said that the Government was proud of having established a National Human Rights Institution in Qatar.
On the issue of human trafficking, a delegate said the Constitution of Qatar referred to safeguards to personal freedom, and no person could be subjected to mistreatment or abuse. The Constitution also mentioned the obligation to respect human dignity and it was forbidden to traffic human beings. The Government was determined to put an end to that phenomenon, and had adopted a number of laws for combating it, such as a law prohibiting organ trafficking. Qatar had also signed international conventions on the issue.
In addition, there were penalties for sexual abuses against women and children in the Penal Code and the sale of children was a crime, although this phenomenon was not widespread in Qatar. Taking people out of Qatar to enter slavery was also prohibited, and The National Bureau for the Fight against People Trafficking became independent in 2004. It worked on prevention, protection and rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking, and provided medical aid and financial support for victims, whether they were Qatari citizens or residents. In addition, seminars were held to raise awareness and to train police forces and a guidebook for migrant workers was published to inform them their rights. A Doha Forum on the Arab Initiative for Capacity Building in the Fight Against People Trafficking was held in 2010 and a centre was created to host and protect victims.
It was mentioned that the Qatari Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children had been set up, a non-profit organization to raise awareness and provide help to those vulnerable groups as well as legal aid, medical and psychological care services. The Foundation had founded a Centre to host and protect female or child victims of violence, and rehabilitation of victims was also an important part of the activities. Seminars and workshops had since been organised to train professionals raise awareness among the population on the role played by the foundation. There was a telephone number available for persons wishing to report abuses.
The economic independence of women in Qatar was guaranteed, he added, and women were able to conduct any legal procedure they wished. A law stipulated that the private properties of women should not be interfered with.
A delegate said there was no discrimination in labour laws between the native and naturalised Qatari populations, and although the labour code did not apply to foreign workers, there were bilateral agreements signed with neighbouring countries that addressed the relations between employers and that category of staff. In addition, a law prohibited the facilitation of the entry of workers in the country by employers unless there was a special authorisation given by the Government, and employers were obliged to state what salary and what working conditions were proposed to employees. Checks on those statements were conducted by the public administration, he explained, and Qatar made efforts to fight against forced or unpaid labour and dangerous working conditions.
In terms of worker education, a guidebook for migrant workers had been published in Arabic and English to provide information on Qatar and on the obligations of employers, and every employer had an obligation to inform workers of any hazards they might be exposed to. A new sponsorship system had also been created for the welcoming and the protection of migrant workers, where the person bringing the person into the country had the responsibility to pay the travelling costs of those involved.
It was also explained that the Nationality Act provided cases where the withdrawal of nationality was possible and cases of statelessness were considered by the authorities. In some cases, stateless persons could obtain the nationality of their country of origin and in other cases they could obtain Qatari nationality. Those persons could enjoy the right to work and could obtain travel documents in order to be able to move abroad to visit their families, though it was noted that Qatari women married to non-Qatari could not pass on the Qatari nationality to their children, because blood lines were only considered from the father’s perspective. The Qatari Nationality Act gave priority to the children of Qatari women for naturalisation.
There were a number of Government agencies and non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights, it was explained, where the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior monitored the situation of human rights in Qatar, participated in the drafting of new laws improving the implementations of Qatar’s international obligations, and received individual complaints.
The delegation commented that in relation to the inclusion of Article 4 of the Convention into national legislation, hate speech or racist discourse were already prohibited under the domestic legal system, and could lead to a sentence of six month imprisonment. Further, the Penal Code of Qatar criminalised defamation of religions and freedom of religion, thought and conscience were guaranteed under the Constitution. It was underlined that all beliefs were respected, which included those of members of the Orthodox Church, and the establishment of the Doha Centre for Interfaith Dialogue was an example of the Government’s will to protect freedom of religion and to promote tolerance. Islam was the official religion, and Sharia was an important source of jurisdiction, but international treaties were also a source of law and had, after their publication, the same force as legislation.
Questions from Experts
Experts said that more disaggregated data giving more details on the situation of the Qatari population and on migrant workers were needed, as while mutual agreements were guaranteed between workers and employers, workers remained in a weaker position, and complaining was not necessarily easy for them. On this point it was asked if there were any examples of condemnation of employers or reparations for employees.
Several Experts then expressed concerns about the human rights situation of migrant workers and noted that although the agreements mentioned before seemed to constitute a good improvement, it was asked as to whether they constituted an efficient system to combat racial discrimination. The Delegation was also asked to give more details on the bilateral agreements signed with neighbouring states sending migrant workers and whether they ensured the same rights for migrant workers regardless of their country of origin.
An Expert said that Qatar respected the freedom of thought for the three main religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), but asked about the situation of persons who believed in others, or in no religion, while another said that the prohibition for women to pass on their nationality to their children could lead to statelessness, because it relied on the nationality inheritance systems applied in their husband’s country of origin. Citizenship was indeed not understood the same way in all the countries, it was explained.
According to Experts, articles of the Penal Code were too general and did not fully cover the requirements of Article 4 of the Convention. An Expert said that the recommendations made by the members of the National Human Rights Committee were relevant and should be seriously considered by the Government.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that labour inspectors addressed the working conditions of migrant workers, and addressed another point saying the Penal Code had criminalised human trafficking, and permissions to exit were not a constraint on the freedom for migrant workers to exit the country.
On bilateral agreements, it was explained they included obligations for both the employers and the workers and a copy of such agreements would be communicated to the Committee in the next periodic report of Qatar. On the question related to domestic workers, several State administrations worked on the protection of women and on freedom of religion it was underlined that the Constitution did not restrict the scope of the freedom of thoughts to any specific religion.
On the role played by Al Jazeera in the dissemination of information on Islamophobia, Al Jazeera was an independent channel and the State did not control the content of its news. However, Al Jazeera had established a human rights section, which would be very pleased to receive recommendations from Committee Experts.
JOSE FRANCISCO CALITZAI, Country Rapporteur for Qatar, commended the Delegation for the openness of the dialogue, welcomed the presence of the National Human Rights Committee, and thanked it for its recommendations. Although the human rights situation had considerably improved in Qatar, the Rapporteur suggested that the Government should implement the recommendations made by that institution. In addition, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination remained concerned about several human rights issues, such as the situation of migrant and domestic Workers, the situation of women and children, or the application of nationality laws that could lead to Statelessness. More information was needed on several topics, such as the sponsorship programme, the situation of migrant workers in rural areas and whether the rights guaranteed for migrant workers applied for domestic workers as well.
HALED BIN JASEM AL-THANI, Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, thanked the Committee for the open and constructive dialogue, reiterated its support for cooperation with the Committee and said that Qatar depended a lot on their dialogue. Qatar was committed to improve the fight against racial discrimination in the country, he said, and would seriously consider all the recommendations made. Qatar had already cooperated with the Committee Against Torture, which had allowed the country to significantly improve the prohibition of torture in accordance with its international obligations, he said. To conclude, the Delegate reiterated Qatar’s political will to implement all the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.