Peninsula - 3/5/2006
In a landmark step, Qatar yesterday became the first country in the Middle East to publish its human rights report. This report compiled by the 15-member National Human Rights Committee- a state sanctioned entity in Doha- calls upon the government to make drastic changes in its policies towards foreign workers while highlighting their plight and discusses the situation of women forced into sexual slavery.
The report, in its introduction, states, several attempts were made in Qatar to improve human rights condition. These objectives were achieved by creating an awareness and culture of human rights and through the NHRC's publications, training courses, discussions, conferences and cooperation with the local press. 2005 also witnessed a considerable progress in human rights in Qatar following the adoption of the country's permanent Constitution on June 8, 2004 and its implementation the following day, after its publication in the Official Gazette.
2005 also saw the establishment of the Qatar House for Lodging and Caring- a facility that will house distressed and destitute men, women and children at the state's expense. Law-22 of 2005, which bans the use of child jockeys and child labourers was also passed last year and came into force from July 25. The NHRC also succeeded in obtaining membership to the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) through the participation in the forum's 10th meeting in Mongolia from August 24 to August 26.
The year also saw the release of suspects detained after the terror attack on the Doha Players Theatre on March 19, after completion of due formalities. The coordination between the Labour Department, NHRC and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior helped alleviate some problems faced by labourers either individually or collectively.
The Human Rights Department at the MoI was also established last year. The NHRC remained independent of any external interference of any sorts.
The report however notes that despite such successes, several violations of human rights were also detected and reported. Prime among these, it states, was the revocation of the Qatari nationality of some 5,000 individuals.
Another major violation detected by the NHRC was regarding unskilled workers employed by construction firms in Qatar. The continuation of the sponsorship system for foreign workers and mandatory exit permits to depart the country, change of sponsorship, the right to choose or change a job and means of transport to leave were also found to be gross violation of human rights, the report adds.
The large number of detainees- both men and women- at the deportation centre, were found to be incarcerated without any legal reasons. Some persons held at the Security Department, brutality cases at police stations and other places against foreign workers, were also found to be gross human rights violations.
Longer periods taken for some cases to be investigated by local authorities, are criticised in the NHRC report. Preventive custody of suspects is yet one more violation of human rights and was found to be used excessively. In several cases, such preventive custody was not necessary. Delays in settling issues concerning workers also violate human rights. Following the Doha Players bombing, security forces conducted surprise raids at various places and detained suspects.
The Qatar government is currently working on certain legislations and laws that require amendment because they are not in conformity with Shariah and international human rights standards.
The Law No-17 of 2003 on the protection of society and Anti-Terrorism Law No-3 of 2004, Labor No-14 of 2004, Law No-21 of 1989 on Marriage to Foreigners, Law No-3 of 1963 on the Entry and Residency of Foreign Workers, Law No-3 of 1984 on Sponsorship of Foreign Nationals and Exit, Law No-12 of 2004 on Associations and others require amendment, the report says.
The priority of the NHRC is to enhance and develop respect for basic human rights while ensuring public freedom while examining the circumstances under which a person was detained at the deportation centre and the State Security Department. The NHRC also strives to protect rights of workers, especially domestic helpers. The committee is trying to make the government amend some laws and legislations detrimental to human rights.
Qatar is signatory to various international agreements for upholding human rights. These include the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, International Convention on Cultural, Economic and Social Rights, Convention on Discrimination Against Women, International Convention on Protection of Foreign Workers and Their Families.
The NHRC is also trying to uphold the economic rights of Qatari nationals, especially the right to employment while trying to solve the problem of equal opportunities in the public sector. NHRC is attempting to enhance social rights including education, health, housing and employment that gives a fruitful and happy life.
The report comes as part of the endeavor to highlight the human rights conditions in Qatar during 2005 and document them in conformity with international standards as a neutral entity. The report strives at giving an objective picture of human rights in Qatar. The report was based on complaints, enquiries, probes, checks to the deportation centre, Central Jail and Juvenile Reformatories, hospitals and places frequented by laborers, camel race track, information garnered from government officials, documentary evidence, reports by inspectors and media reports.
The NHRC also took into consideration reports published outside Qatar and those of various organizations.
The Human Rights Report is divided into four parts. The first part deals with the latest developments in law and legislation. The second part concerns human rights and freedom in Qatar during 2005. The third part specifies the NHRC's activities and its achievements. Part-4 contains recommendations and proposals made by the NHRC to improve human rights conditions in Qatar, eliminating the cause of the violations.