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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers initial report of Qatar

Committee on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities

27 August 2015

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Qatar on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In the presentation of the report, Najat Adham Al-Abdalla, Director of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities Department, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, said that Qatar had ratified the Convention in 2008 and in April 2015 it had adopted the law on persons with disabilities, which covered the rights contained in the Convention.  The 2007 Social Security Act provided monthly benefits to persons with disabilities and a monthly cash allowance for domestic help.  In 2014, the Department of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities had been created within the Ministry of Labour to develop and implement relevant programmes and policies.  Further, Qatar had adopted a national health strategy which provided free health insurance for persons with disabilities, and a medical Committee of Disability had been established in order to look into health, social and family concerns of persons with disabilities.

Amna Al-Suwaidi, National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, noted the challenges in the application of detailed provisions of the Convention, such as the prevailing medical perspective in defining disability in the laws and policies, and the ineffective application of the law on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities because regulations and procedural instructions necessary to enforce it in practice were absent.  The integration of the rights of persons with disabilities and their concerns in public affairs was not a priority and there was a need to consolidate the culture of  human rights at all levels in decision-making bodies.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts recognized the many initiatives and positive measures in favour of persons with disabilities in Qatar, but were concerned that the approach to persons with disabilities was one of segregation and creating special systems and specialized solutions for persons with disabilities, rather than including them in existing structures – schools, workplaces and local communities.  Disability-based discrimination was not specifically prohibited in the legal framework, which made it very difficult for persons with disabilities to invoke their rights and seek legal remedies.  Persons with disabilities suffered multiple and intersectional discrimination on the grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and migrant status, while women, especially women with disabilities, faced more barriers in exercising their rights on an equal basis with men.  Experts were concerned about Qatar’s focus on the prevention of disability, and stressed that primary prevention of impairment was not a means to implement the Convention, which dealt with the rights of persons with disabilities.  It was of utmost importance to address violence against women and children, including those with disability.

Mohammed Al-Tarawneh, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Qatar, in his concluding remarks, stressed the importance of active involvement and consultation with representative organizations of persons with disabilities and noted misconceptions in the understanding of the Convention and how it applied.  This was particularly concerning for the fundamental principles of inclusion of persons with disabilities, and respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity.  There were still significant barriers faced by women with disabilities, migrants with disabilities, and persons with disabilities of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Al-Abdalla said that Qatar would seriously consider the Committee’s concluding observations and take them into account while developing laws and policies to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in line with Islamic Sharia and inherent social values. 

The delegation of Qatar included representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Supreme Education Council, Hamad Medical Corporation, Ministry of Interior, Qatar Foundation for Social Action, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Shafallah Centre for Children with Special Needs, Qatar Social and Cultural Centre for the Blind, and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Qatar at the end of the session, on Friday, 4 September 2015.  The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of the European Union CRPD/C/EU/1.

Report

The initial report of Qatar can be accessed here CRPD/C/QAT/1.

Presentation of the Report

NAJAT ADHAM AL-ABDALLA, Director of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities Department, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, reaffirmed that any discrimination against persons with disabilities was a violation of their inherent value and dignity, and said that persons with disabilities had the right to be autonomous, self-reliant, make their own choices and participate in decision making processes.  In 2008, Qatar had ratified the Convention; in April 2015 it had adopted a law on persons with disabilities, which covered the rights contained in the Convention, and had established the National Committee with representatives of persons with disabilities whose mandate was to monitor compliance with the Convention.  The Social Security Act of 2007 provided monthly benefits to persons with disabilities and a monthly cash allowance for domestic help.  In 2014, the Department of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities had been created within the Ministry of Labour to develop and implement programmes and policies and set up an integrated database on issues related to the elderly and persons with disabilities. 

In terms of practical steps, a national health strategy had been adopted which provided free health insurance for persons with disabilities, and a medical Committee of Disability had been established in order to look into health, social and family concerns of persons with disabilities.  Various projects had been implemented to raise awareness about the right of persons with disabilities and the National Council of Education had taken steps to ensure the right of persons with disabilities to join mainstream schools and to modernize teaching techniques.  The Qatar Institute for Education Science provided learning support for persons with disabilities, while the Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technologies ensured that persons with disabilities were connected to the Internet.  In terms of the institutional framework, the National Human Rights Committee, an independent  human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles, had been set up; the Government took its recommendations into account and ensured they were implemented.  The role of civil society was also important.  Human rights issues in general were a strategic choice for Qatar and its comprehensive development policy in order to achieve Qatar Vision 2030.

AMNA AL-SUWAIDI, National Human Rights Committee, appreciated the continuing efforts of the State to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, and noted the challenges in the application of the detailed provisions of the Convention.  The system of policies and legislation had adopted a medical perspective in defining disability, and that was why executive bodies relied on medical reports as an “entry gate” through which persons with disabilities exercised their fundamental rights and freedoms.  Qatar should adopt a holistic definition of status of disability and integrate it in national legislation and policies, and abolish all legislation based on discrimination on the basis of disability.  The application of the law on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities was inadequate, as regulations and procedural instructions necessary to enforce it in practice were absent.  Further, the integration of the rights of persons with disabilities and their concerns in public affairs was not a priority and the Committee emphasized the importance of consolidating the culture of  human rights at all levels in decision-making bodies.  The participation of persons with disabilities and representative institutions in developing plans, strategies and decision-making procedures was poor, due to commonness of the medical charity model in providing services to persons with disabilities.

Questions by the Committee Experts

MOHAMMED AL-TARAWNEH, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Qatar, said that Qatar was a modern State with considerable resources and recognized the many initiatives and positive measures in favour of persons with disabilities.  There was a lack of direct information from Qatari organizations of persons with disabilities and the State’s support to such organizations to engage in advocacy on their  human rights was absent.  The approach to the rights of persons with disabilities was heavily embedded in the medical and charity model, as evidenced by the definition of persons with disabilities found in the Special Needs Act.  The Act defined limits affecting individuals and limits upon the potential for learning, rehabilitation or employment, which was not aligned to the Convention’s definition of disability.  The approach to persons with disabilities was one of segregation, of creating special systems and specialized solutions for persons with disabilities rather than including them in existing structures such as schools, workplaces and local communities.  The provisions of the Convention outlined the requirement to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to live on an equal basis as with others.  There was limited support in the community for persons with disabilities to exercise choice and control over where they lived and with whom. 

Disability-based discrimination was not specifically prohibited in the legal framework, which made it very difficult for persons with disabilities to be able to invoke their rights and seek legal remedies.  Persons with disabilities in Qatar were subject to multiple forms of discrimination and intersectional discrimination on the basis of their disability, as well as other protected areas such as gender, migrant status and sexual orientation.  Women faced more barriers to exercising their rights on an equal basis with men, and the Country Rapporteur asked how women with disabilities were empowered to overcome barriers of a very patriarchal society and exercise their rights when faced with multiple or intersectional discrimination.  Another area of concern was a focus on prevention of disability and rehabilitation, rather than on adopting a positive approach to the contribution of all persons with disabilities. 

The delegation was asked about measures to provide the public with information to establish a more positive image of persons with disabilities as human rights holders rather than recipients of welfare; about organizations of persons with disabilities and how organized women with disabilities were; whether there was a generalized plan for the harmonization of domestic legislation with the Convention, and how the Special Needs Act could be brought into alignment with the Convention. 

The definition of disability was explicitly based on impairments or incapacities, and lacked the focus on the needs, strengths, rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities, which was discriminatory; what plans were in place to change this definition to a social model, and also to adopt a new disability assessment mechanism which adopted the  human rights approach?

Another Expert inquired about legal remedy for the violation of the rights of persons with disabilities, especially the cases which invoked the Convention after it had been incorporated in domestic legislation; training of engineers and architects in universal design and legal framework that all new construction and products were accessible for everyone, including persons with disabilities; and about accessibility in Qatar.

Experts wished to hear more about sanctions that were in place for non-compliance with accessibility standards, the State’s support to organizations of persons with disabilities for their independent disability-related activities, and protection from discrimination on the grounds of disability of parents of children with disability.

Qatar was focused on prevention of disability, which was not an issue covered by the Convention; primary prevention of impairment was not a means to implement the Convention, which dealt with the rights of persons with disabilities.  Did the Child’s Rights Agenda include children with disability and how were children with disability included in consultation and decision-making processes and which support was provided to families of children with disability so that they could keep them at home?  Did Qatari law recognize multiple and intersectional discrimination on the grounds of gender, identity, sexual orientation and other grounds, and were there remedies and sanctions for multiple and intersectional discrimination?

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, said that Qatar had not ratified the two International Covenants, on civil and political rights, and on economic, social and cultural rights, and asked about its position concerning the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and on the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  It was of utmost importance to address violence against women and children, including those with disability.

Response by the Delegation

The Law N°2 on the rights of persons with disabilities had been issued in 2004, four years before the ratification of the Convention; it was based on an evolving approach to disability, moving away from the medical to social model.  In April 2015, the Council of Ministers had adopted the new law for persons with disabilities which contained a social model of disability based on  human rights.  Rights of persons with disabilities were also contained in the sustainable development plan “Qatar Vision 2030”.  The 2015 law would be implemented through a series of decisions. 

Special accommodation for persons with disabilities could be provided at the expense of the Government, and special importance was given to reasonable accommodation to ensure equal treatment of persons with disabilities in various spheres of life.  For example, in the health sector, emergency and rescue workers were trained in dealing with persons with disabilities, and hospital workers were trained in communication with persons with disabilities.  Evaluation clinics had been opened to assess students’ capacities and prepare reports for teachers in order to prepare individualized teaching plans.  New schools had appropriate specifications for accessibility, teachers were trained how to deal with persons with disabilities, and educational books had been translated into Braille and or voice recorded.  Ramps had been installed at the entrance to public buildings, and employers had the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation and adapt the workplace to persons with disabilities and his or her assessed capacities.

Persons with disabilities participated in the drafting of new laws, while the Prime Minister held annual meetings with parents of children with disability to consider the main challenges they faced; new policies took into account those consultations.  Different steps had been taken in the Health Strategy 3.1. to ensure the involvement of persons with disabilities in all decisions regarding therapies or medical care provided.  In 2010 a census had been carried out on persons with disabilities, while the general census of 2015 had taken disaggregated data of persons with disabilities; the results would be made available next month.  Decree 29/2014 had established a database on elderly and persons with disabilities, while the June 2015 human development report of Qatar also contained disaggregated data on persons with disabilities.

With regards to violence against women, the delegation said that the society was not a violent one, and not many cases of violence had been reported.  Home care teams carried regular home visits to detect any evidence of abuse on women and children with disabilities.  The Qatari Centre for the Blind had a hotline which provided guidance to women with disabilities victims of violence.  

Qatar had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had a provision in the law to provide mothers of children with disabilities with fully paid leave.  In order to increase the participation of children with disabilities in education policies, the Student Parliament had been initiated.  The Supreme Council of Education updated educational policies every three years to keep them up-to-date.  A programme We Can was being carried out to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities, in addition to a number of other initiatives targeting general public, children with disabilities, persons with disabilities and other stakeholders. 

In order to support the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream education, Qatar was following best practice around the world, for example through the preparation of schools which would receive students with disabilities, the preparation of teaching and administrative staff, and the preparation of families.  It was also important to raise awareness of persons with disabilities about their rights, and awareness raising in the society was a strategic objective in the promotion of a human rights based model of disability. 

Questions by the Experts

In a further series of questions, Experts asked about policies, standards, and general guidelines to ensure accessibility in emergency and disaster risk contexts, which legal remedies were available to persons with disabilities whose rights were violated, and if systematic training of judges on the provisions of the Convention took place and if classes on the rights of persons with disabilities were available to law students. 

The delegation was asked to provide detailed information about institutionalization, and to explain the process of deinstitutionalization.  Since the date of ratification of the Convention, how many persons with disabilities of different sexual orientation had been sentenced to the death penalty or subjected to other forms of punishment?  What mechanism was in place to ensure that migrants with disabilities or migrants with children with disabilities had access to emergency assistance granted under the Social Insurance Act of 1995?

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, asked the delegation about safeguards for due process for persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.

Response by the Delegation

National legislation, especially the Code on Human Rights Management and the Labour Act, did not define specifically the need for consent by a guardian for a woman to work.  In terms of treatment accorded to migrants with disabilities or migrants with children with disabilities, Qatar made no distinction in terms of services provided to its residents, be they citizens or not; health, education and technical services were provided free to everyone.  Qatar ranked first at the Arab level and twenty-second internationally in the World Peace Index in 2014.  An emergency centre had been established to protect citizens and property from risks emanating from natural disasters.  In 2012, the Fifth International Forum had  been organized in Qatar which discussed emergency and disasters and also discussed in particular the protection of persons with disabilities in various emergencies, including conflict-related ones.  The laws contained some criteria on requirements of eligibility and specified mechanisms for managing the financial affairs of persons with psychosocial disabilities, and of minors.  The 2004 Civil Code stipulated that a court could appoint an assistant to persons who could not conclude a contract because of severe physical disabilities. 

Everyone was guaranteed equality in criminal procedures and in access to justice, and the Law on Criminal Procedures provided special safeguards for people with disabilities, including the standing in for the victim by a public prosecutor if the victim had no representation, use of sign language interpreters, while the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures were available in Braille.  There were special provisions to ensure that persons with disabilities were not denied legal aid.

In 2013, the Standing Committee for Protection against Domestic Violence had been set up, and a campaign Don’t Keep Quiet had been implemented to raise awareness about domestic violence and to train health workers to detect abuse and violence.  The law considered abortion as something that affected human life and dignity, and had provided sanctions for violence against pregnant women and those who performed abortions and terminated pregnancy.  Women who consented to abortion without medical reasons to do so would also be sanctioned.  Doctors were prohibited from performing consensual abortion except in cases where continuing pregnancy posed a threat to life or health of the woman.  Women could decide to keep their risk pregnancy and doctors were prohibited from performing an abortion in such cases.

Persons with disabilities received independent living allowance by the Ministry for Social Affairs, as well as 150 stocks and part of the profit of the social foundation, while women with children with disabilities were granted special maternity leave.  Migrant workers with disabilities enjoyed the rights on an equal basis with nationals, including free health care and treatment for them and their families.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts inquired about the plan for the implementation of an inclusive education system and how individual education programmes had been tailored to the needs of children with disabilities in order to ensure that they attended school together with others as well as continued to higher education. 

The delegation was asked to explain how disabled persons’ organizations were involved in monitoring of the implementation of the Convention, how written consent in connection with abortion or any other kind of medical treatment was obtained if a person could not write because of his or her disability, and to inform the Committee about the provision of interactive technology support to persons with disabilities in Qatar.  Experts also asked about steps taken to set up a designated body to monitor the implementation of the Convention, in compliance with the Paris Principles.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, asked about the provision of medical services to those in remote and rural areas, near borders and in deserts, and about the evaluation of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Response by the Delegation

All children with disabilities had been integrated in schools.  A national policy on inclusive education was in place and school curricula were adapted according to the type of disability.  Teaching assistants were trained and possessed at least a certificate in special teaching, while auxiliaries for children with disabilities were in place in all schools.  The Special Department under the supervision of the Supreme Council for Education had been set up to ensure inclusive education.  The unified sign language dictionary was available free of charge and also in written or DVD form.

A Rehabilitation and Training Department of the Shafallah Centre for Children with Special Needs trained students with disability to ensure that they could join the labour market.  Women with disabilities could contract marriage freely, but in case of women with mental disabilities, the agreement and consent of the other party was needed.  Workshops on reproductive health were organized by the Hamad Medical Centre and were free of charge for women and girls with disabilities.

Qatar was committed to preserving health, so treatment could be administered without consent, if it was found by three consultants that lack of treatment would lead to death.  In terms of support to families of autistic children, the delegation said that the Shafallah Centre for Children with Special Needs had a department specialized in family support, which helped families deal with their children’s disability and understand their behaviours and assist them in the education and rehabilitation of their children. 

International cooperation was being provided to other countries on the basis of the Qatar Vision 2030, in areas of security and development and to address challenges such as food crises, climate change, and others.  International aid provided in 2012 had been over three billion Rials.

The Family Code did not distinguish between women with or without disability, and women with disabilities had equal rights to marriage.  Before children with disabilities were integrated in mainstream education, an assessment of capacities was conducted which was then used for the adaptation of the curricula.  School premises were made accessible for all types of disabilities, and the State provided all equipment that helped with the education of children with disabilities for free.  Some private schools were not accessible for children with disabilities, and if they had children with disabilities among their students, they were obliged to equip the school and make it accessible, otherwise they might lose their authorisation to function.

Concluding Remarks

NAJAT ADHAM AL-ABDALLA, Director of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities Department, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, said that Qatar had made relentless efforts on the legislative and institutional level to promote, protect and enforce all human rights and fundamental freedoms for persons with disabilities and respect their inherent dignity on a par with all members of the society.  Qatar would seriously consider the Committee’s concluding observations and take them into account while developing laws and policies to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in line with Islamic Sharia and inherent social values. 

MOHAMMED AL-TARAWNEH, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Qatar, said that the Convention was a very new instrument and it was natural for States to experience challenges in moving from a medical or charity model to a  human rights based model for persons with disabilities.  It was important to actively involve and actively consult with representative organizations of persons with disabilities on the ground, and to appoint a national independent monitoring body in line with the Paris Principles.  The Country Rapporteur noted misconceptions in the understanding of the Convention and how it applied, particularly concerning the fundamental principles of the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity.  There were still significant barriers faced by women with disabilities, migrants with disabilities, and persons with disabilities of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, said that this dialogue was an opportunity to find ways to work together to adjust national standards to the Convention’s standards, and that this was the Committee’s primary task.

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