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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Qatar, Honduras and Iraq with civil society

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations with respect to Qatar, Honduras and Iraq, whose reports on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed representatives of non-governmental organizations, noting that they enjoyed full freedom of expression at the Committee.  The Committee accepted credible information from civil society in order to support its work vis-à-vis States parties.  

During the discussion, civil society organizations from Qatar drew attention to discrimination against members of a tribe and against migrant workers.  Accessing justice for migrant workers was not easy and there was segregation of migrant workers from the rest of the population in the country.  Representatives of civil society also highlighted the situation of migrant women who were pregnant outside marriage and placed in shelters, and the inability of Qatari women married to foreigners to pass on Qatari nationality to their children.  Qatar had been subjected to some discriminatory practices, which had impacted the fundamental freedoms of the Qatari people, and which had affected many families as the result of restrictions on their freedom of movement.

A representative of civil society from Honduras underlined challenges faced by Afro-Hondurans and indigenous peoples in the country, namely the sale of their ancestral lands to foreigners without free, prior and informed consent, and the lack of their political representation.  The Secretariat for the Inclusion of People of African Descent and Indigenous Peoples had been set up by the Government only as part of electoral promises and it had been downgraded to the status of a directorate.  The authorities needed to take urgent action to ensure the proportionate representation of Afro-Hondurans and indigenous peoples in all branches of the Government.

Civil society organizations from Iraq called attention to the plight of numerous ethno-religious minorities in the country.  The territorial dispute between the Kurdish regional Government and the Iraqi Government had had a very negative impact on access to economic, social and cultural rights.  There were numerous examples of human rights abuses perpetrated by militias officially sanctioned by the Government with overt racial overtones.  During the ongoing reconstruction of the country, the territories of minorities were disputed by different regional authorities and military groups.  Instead of including minorities in decision-making, there was further victimization and violence against them, as well as another wave of displacement.  Yazidi, Turkmen and Christian women were facing the risk of statelessness due to the loss of identity documents, whereas there was systematic discrimination against Roma and women.

Speaking on Qatar were Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights, Global Detention Project, Migrants-Rights.org, and Qatar Foundation.

Organization for Community Ethnic Development spoke about Honduras.

Speaking on Iraq were Minority Rights Group International, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Iraqi Al-Amar Association, Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights, and Observer Human Rights Centre.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined seventeenth to twenty-first periodic report of Qatar (CERD/C/QAT/17-21).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed representatives of non-governmental organizations, noting that they enjoyed full freedom of expression at the Committee.  The Committee accepted credible information from civil society in order to support its work vis-à-vis States parties.  

Statements on Qatar

Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights called upon States to adopt the reforms suggested and to respond to the Committee’s calls to end all forms of racial discrimination.  The Constitution of Qatar and its laws did not safeguard equality for women and female domestic workers, and the kafala system and legislation concerning migrant workers were problematic.   It called on the authorities of Qatar to put an end to discrimination against the tribe of Al Ghuffran.  Most of its members had been displaced and stripped of Qatari nationality.  They could not seek employment nor benefit from social benefits.  Furthermore, the policy of discrimination continued against migrant workers who were forced to work extra hours.  They had been prevented from addressing their complaints to the authorities.  Law prevented them from living in urban residential areas.  Instead, they lived in workers’ camps in very difficult conditions.  Additionally, Qatari women married to foreigners could not pass on Qatari nationality to their children.  The organization called on Qatar to cooperate with non-governmental organizations and to honour its international commitments.  

Global Detention Project and Migrants-Rights.org focused on restrictions of freedom of movement for migrant workers and detention of migrant workers due to their residency status.  Under the Labour Law, migrant workers could be detained up to three years, if not longer, and they had to pay for their tickets back home.  Otherwise, they would become stranded in Qatar.  The organizations also pointed out to the situation of migrant women who were pregnant outside marriage and placed in shelters.  The organizations recommended that pregnant migrant women not be detained.  There was not much information on how the Law on Domestic Workers was implemented.  The exit permit applied to migrant workers, but the Labour Law did not apply to domestic workers.  Additionally, the organizations pointed out to the deficiencies in the resolution of labour disputes.  The Quick Dispute Resolution Committee was not as efficient as claimed by the Qatari authorities.  Accessing justice for migrant workers was not easy and there was segregation of migrant workers from the rest of the population in the country.  Civil society organizations were unable to help those in distress.  

Qatar Foundation underlined its commitment to promote and protect human rights, including the prohibition of racial discrimination.  Article 35 of the Constitution stipulated that all citizens were equal in their rights and were to be free from discrimination.  The Foundation played a major role in protecting human rights and extending services to all vulnerable groups.  It maintained eight centres across the country to provide those categories with human rights, regardless of their gender and race.  All those centres had expanded the space for cooperation between the Government, the private sector and civil society.  In June 2017, Qatar had been subjected to some discriminatory practices, which had impacted the fundamental freedoms of the Qatari people, and which had affected many families as the result of restrictions on their freedom of movement.  The Foundation had, thus, offered counselling services to affected families, regardless of their nationality.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked whether national non-governmental organizations had reacted to discrimination against women.  In terms of nationality, what had been done on the ground?  

As for migrant workers, and particularly domestic workers, the same Expert asked civil society representatives what they hoped the 2017 law on domestic workers would contain.  

Another Expert reminded of an important breakthrough at the International Labour Organization with respect to domestic workers.  Had there been any investigation by the International Labour Organization of the conditions under which domestic workers in Qatar lived?  Had there been any discussions between the Government of Qatar and the International Labour Organization on that issue?

One Expert highlighted the ranking of salaries for migrant workers in Qatar, and the situation of domestic workers from the Philippines.  What happened with their passports?  There were reports that their passports were confiscated as per the Government’s recommendation.

What was the number of children in detention centres, as well as of women with children?

Replies

Global Detention Project and Migrants-Rights.org noted that there was no enforcement mechanism and the 2017 law on domestic workers was not equal to the Labour Law.  There was a right to a day off, but there was no clarification on how domestic workers could spend that day.  In addition, there was no guarantee for a minimum wage.  Wages were stratified by nationalities.  The Government did not do much to address the issue of segregation of migrant workers.  There was technical cooperation between the International Labour Organization and the Government of Qatar.  But Qatar was not signatory to the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189 on domestic workers.  The official registration of non-governmental organizations was subject to the heavy scrutiny of State officials.  There were no statistics on the number of detained children and women with children.  The Law on Domestic Workers was not enforced properly due to the power of employers.  In the same vein, not many employers had been held accountable for the confiscation of passports, even though passport confiscation was prohibited by the law.  

Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights explained that the Qatari Nationality Code contained an egregious form of discrimination against women.  The Family Code also contained certain discriminatory elements towards women.  For example, women could not obtain divorce at their own initiative, and they only received reduced alimony.  As for migrant workers, the Ministry of Planning had published documents according to which some 1.44 million lived in migrant workers’ camps in difficult conditions.  Foreign workers could not leave the country without the permission of the employer.

Qatar Foundation challenged the statements made by other civil society organizations.  The International Labour Organization had a country office in Qatar which allowed it to monitor the implementation of legal provisions on domestic workers.  Civil society was now more aware of the situation, as was the Qatari administration.  Workers needed to live close to their place of work.  As for migrant workers’ passports, in case of contract termination workers would be able to recover their documents.  It was normal for employers to keep workers’ documents.  Children of Qatari women married to foreigners could hold a permanent residence permit, which allowed them access to education and social benefits.  

Statement on Honduras

Organization for Community Ethnic Development stated that with significant progress made, including changes to the national Constitution, there was a contradiction between domestic laws and the Convention.  Following the Third World Conference to Fight Racism, Honduras had ratified the Convention, it had set up the working group on the progress of all communities and the Secretariat for the Inclusion of People of African Descent and Indigenous Peoples, and it had adopted a national policy to fight racism.  People of African descent and indigenous peoples were the main victims of racism.  The Secretariat for the Inclusion of People of African Descent and Indigenous Peoples had been set up only as part of electoral promises and it had been downgraded to the status of a directorate.  Poverty and exclusion had a severe impact on Afro-Hondurans.  There should be campaigns to restore the confidence of indigenous peoples and people of African descent in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the authorities needed to take urgent action to ensure the proportionate representation of Afro-Hondurans and indigenous peoples in all branches of the Government.  In addition, the authorities should conduct a reliable census.  When it came to human rights defenders, there had been a series of attacks on those representatives of Afro-Hondurans and indigenous peoples.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked about the ethnic makeup of Honduras.  He also inquired about the land deeds of the Garifuna people, and respect for their free, prior and informed consent.  

The same Expert also asked about the linguistic diversity of Honduras, as well as about the sanctions for those found responsible for the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres.

Another Expert inquired about the mechanisms to fight racial discrimination and hate speech.  What was the extent of international cooperation of the Garifuna community in Honduras?  Was there a programme of action to implement the International Decade for People of African Descent?  How could the history curriculum promote the fight against racial discrimination?

To what extent were the Garifuna people involved in the elaboration of the national development plan?  

Were there any statistics available on attacks on human rights defenders?  Was there an initiative to protect human rights defenders?  

Replies

Organization for Community Ethnic Development responded that there were nine ethnic groups, out of which two were of African descent, the Garifuna and the English-speaking Creole population.  In terms of access to property, there had been many problems with land rights of the Garifuna community, which inhabited the northern coast of the country.  The organization pointed out to the irregular sales of land by local authorities to owners from Canada.  The Public Prosecutor’s Office could not deal with those cases due to the lack of human resources and expertise.  Accordingly, the organization sought increased resources for the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  There had not been any advances on the National Plan for Fighting Racial Discrimination.  The National Commission on Racism had been created, but there was no political will to make it operational.

The Garifuna community was spread out throughout Latin America (except in Costa Rica and Panama), and there was a diaspora in the United States.  The community was working actively to gain recognition.  The Ministry of Education was developing various projects to encourage the use of various mother tongues, including the Garifuna language.  Indigenous leaders were not aware of the Directorate for the Inclusion of People of African Descent and Indigenous Peoples.  Many human rights defenders were mistrustful of the system meant to protect them.  There had been follow-up to the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres.  The lack of representation of the Garifuna and indigenous peoples in decision-making was striking.  Without the political will to move forward, all national plans would disappear into thin air.  In reality, communities did not benefit from those national plans.

Statements on Iraq

Minority Rights Group International noted that ethnic communities in Iraq were also religious minorities and accordingly they faced discrimination on both grounds.  Minorities in Iraq did not enjoy equal access to economic, social and cultural rights.  The territorial dispute between the Kurdish regional Government and the Iraqi Government had had a very negative impact on the rights of various minorities.  Iraq should speed up its process of re-documentation of conflict-affected minorities who could not access work, employment and health benefits due to the loss of documentation during the war.  The living conditions of many minority groups were below minimum standards.  They needed reconstructed homes and essential infrastructure.  The security risks faced by ethno-religious minorities were due to the activities of ISIS.  Over four million Iraqis had been displaced.  Attacks on minorities had been largely committed with impunity.  The Iraqi Government had to act immediately to protect all minorities.  It should acknowledge, investigate and prosecute all the crimes committed against minorities and return their lost property.

Geneva International Centre for Justice stressed that Iraq had never before in its history experienced institutionalized racial discrimination, which had started following the invasion by the United States in 2003.  Due to previous injustices against the Shia community and the Kurds, the post-2003 political system in Iraq allocated more powers to those two communities.  However, that was enacted to the detriment of many minorities.  The organization stressed that Iraq directly discriminated through State action, and that it supported and defended racial discrimination by third parties.  Lastly, Iraq did not use all appropriate means to prohibit and end racial discrimination by third parties.  In the Iraqi context, the concept of racial discrimination could implicate religious beliefs in at least two ways.  For many ethnic groups, religion was an integral part of their ethnic identity and so discrimination against the group that may be based on religion effectively operated as discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.  Second, in Islam certain families were recognized as descendants of key historical religious figures.  In Iraq, those families had come to control the Government, which in turn discriminated against non-members of those families when it came to Government jobs, services and protection.  There were numerous examples of human rights abuses perpetrated by militias officially sanctioned by the Government with overt racial overtones.  

Iraqi Al-Amar Association stated that minorities in Iraq had been marginalized, without access to education and healthcare.  The Roma had been ignored and they were deprived of their basic rights, including holding Iraqi citizenship.  Migrant workers from Nepal and Sudan did not enjoy equal rights and there was no law to regulate their status.  Minorities did not have access to places of worship nor did they enjoy the right of association.  Some speeches by Iraqi leaders were hateful, whereas some parts of school curriculum incited hatred.  Turning to women, the organization underlined that women belonging to minorities were deprived of their rights.  

Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights drew attention to the discrimination against women, namely the crimes committed against women by Da’esh.  These women had suffered from flagrant discrimination, including the destruction of places of worship.  The organization called on the Government of Iraq to conduct an accurate survey of the population.

Observer Human Rights Centre called on the authorities to respect the rights of the Roma community, which did not enjoy the right to citizenship and other basic rights.  They could not take up employment in the private or public sector.  Their political rights were confined only to voting and they could not stand for office.  Roma had not received identification documents, namely birth and marriage certificates.  The Roma population had decreased from 200,000 to 50,000 due to the neglect of the Government and the absence of any protection measures.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked for more examples of hate speech in Iraq, and about cases of intersectional discrimination against women.  

Another Expert inquired about black Iraqis and their vulnerability to discrimination, as well as about the kafala system in Iraq.  

Replies

Representatives of Iraqi non-governmental organizations highlighted speeches made by religious and political leaders, including members of the Parliament.  Religious press also issued hate speech.  Even the Prime Minister had provided clear examples of hate speech, which was the result of the regime in power since 2003.  Militias, namely mercenaries, were behind the violence in the country.  It was those mercenaries, including under the flag of Da’esh, that had created chaos.  The rape of women based on their religious denomination was also the result of the State giving power to militias.

During the ongoing reconstruction of the country, the territories of minorities were disputed by different regional authorities and military groups.  Instead of including minorities in decision-making, there was further victimization and violence against them, as well as another wave of displacement.  Yazidi, Turkmen and Christian women were facing the risk of statelessness due to the loss of identity documents.  Black Iraqis faced discrimination during election periods, namely there had been attacks against representatives of that community.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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