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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines the report of Qatar

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination 

28 November 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventeenth to twenty-first periodic report of Qatar on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Soltan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, noted that the consideration of the report by the Committee was a valuable opportunity for self-revision and a sound analysis of conditions in Qatar.  The Government had taken all legislative and administrative measures to implement the Committee’s recommendations within the framework of integrated social development – the Vision 2030 – which provided an enabling environment for the promotion of human rights.  The authorities acknowledged the role and value of migrant workers and considered them to be important partners in achieving development.  Since 2012, Qatar had witnessed institutional and legislative developments with respect to human rights and the authorities had pursued strategies to enhance the role of women in all fields.  Referring to the unilateral measures against Qatar, the head of the delegation noted that they had negatively impacted the rights of Qatari citizens.  It was particularly disturbing that those measures were discriminatory and racist in their aim.  Qatar had presented a complaint against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in order to address the situation for those who had been negatively affected.  In conclusion, the head of the delegation stressed that Qatar would continue participating in international efforts to strengthen and promote human rights, despite the ongoing blockade.

The National Commission for Human Rights of Qatar noted that there had been progress in the implementation of some of the Committee’s recommendations, namely in the area of access to justice, the situation of migrant workers, and the dismantling of legal discriminatory provisions.  The authorities had passed the Permanent Residency Act and for the first time, domestic workers had had their rights recognized and equated to other migrant workers.  They could change their employers and no longer needed to obtain permission to leave the country. 

In the ensuing discussion, the Committee Experts commended Qatar’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but regretted the State party’s reservations towards the rights of migrants and women.  The Experts reminded that Qatari legislation still did not contain a definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention, and urged the State party to adopt an appropriate law and to consider the binding nature of article 4 of the Convention on condemning all racist propaganda.  Furthermore, they encouraged the State party to take measures to facilitate the work of the Committee with respect to individual communications.  The Experts also inquired about the functioning and independence of the National Commission for Human Rights, structures to deal with asylum seekers and non-refoulement, reform of the kafala system and the recruitment of foreign workers, bilateral agreements signed with countries providing the labour force, confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, accommodation provided to migrant workers and difference in salaries paid to them, certification of employment contracts and handling of labour disputes, provisions of the Nationality Law (the passing of nationality by Qatari women and naturalization), family reunification, ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, the independence of judges and lawyers, and the detention of women with children out of wedlock.

In her concluding remarks, Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Qatar, thanked the delegation for its cooperation with the Committee, noting that Qatar faced the problem of universality of rights, and it had to adopt special measures pursuant to the Convention to ensure that everyone was on the equal footing.

Faisal Bin Abdulla Al-Henzab, Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, thanked the Committee for a fruitful dialogue and stressed that Qatar had the political will to implement the provisions of the Convention.  Qatar would pursue the convening of training courses to ensure the prevention of racial discrimination, and it would present all the necessary statistics regarding the progress achieved in the implementation of the Convention. 

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation that it could submit any additional information in writing within the next 48 hours.  The Chairperson thanked the delegation for its participation and the high-level of interaction with the Committee. 

The delegation of Qatar consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health, and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.  

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Honduras (CERD/C/HND/6-8). 

Report

The Committee had before it the combined seventeenth to twenty-first periodic report of Qatar: CERD/C/QAT/17-21.

Presentation of the Report

SOLTAN BIN SAAD AL-MURAIKHI, State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, stated that the interactive dialogue would increase the understanding between Qatar and the Committee.  The consideration of the report by the Committee was a valuable opportunity for self-revision and sound analysis of conditions in Qatar.  The periodic report was the result of a consultative process and it had been submitted to the National Commission of Human Rights for further comments.  The report contained a description of the general framework for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country, and presented the measures adopted by Qatar to implement the provisions of the Convention, as well as the Committee’s recommendations.  The Government of Qatar paid the utmost attention to the questions dealt with in the report, and it was committed to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee.  The Government gave priority to compliance with the Convention, which translated into the increased awareness of State officials about the Convention provisions.  It had taken all legislative and administrative measures to further enforce them within the framework of integrated social development – the Vision 2030 – which provided an enabling environment for the promotion of human rights.

The authorities acknowledged the role and value of migrant workers and considered them important partners in achieving development.  It was a strategic choice to support migrant workers.  Since 2012, Qatar had witnessed institutional and legislative developments with respect to human rights.  It had become a State party to seven of the nine core international human rights conventions.  The Government had adopted laws on political asylum, housing, permanent residence, and exit permits.  It had also established the National Committee for Combatting Human Trafficking.  The authorities had pursued strategies to enhance the role of women in all fields.  Four women had been appointed to the Shura Council, whereas a woman acted as the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Referring to the unilateral measures against Qatar, the head of the delegation noted that they had negatively impacted the rights of Qatari citizens.  It was disturbing that those measures against Qatari citizens were discriminatory and racist in their aim.  Qatar had addressed letters to nine United Nations Special Rapporteurs and had asked that such practices be stopped.  The technical mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Qatar of November 2017 had indicated all human rights violations that had resulted from the blockade of Qatar, such as family separation and the ability of Qatari students to study abroad.  Qatar had presented a complaint against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in order to redress the situation for those who had been negatively affected.  In conclusion, the head of the delegation stressed that Qatar would continue participating in international efforts to strengthen and promote human rights, despite the ongoing blockade.

National Commission for Human Rights presented Qatar’s priorities and challenges, noting that there had been progress in the implementation of some of the Committee’s recommendations, namely in the area of access to justice, the situation of migrant workers, and the dismantling of legal discriminatory provisions.  The authorities had passed the Permanent Residency Act and for the first time, domestic workers had had their rights recognized and equated to other migrant workers.  They could change their employers and they no longer needed to obtain permission to leave the country.  The Commission had received several complaints regarding children with disabilities who did not hold Qatari citizenship and it had written to educational authorities to stop discriminatory practices.   Finally, the Commission stressed that Qatar was under a blockade by neighbouring countries and the Commission was monitoring the violation of human rights in that respect. 

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Qatar, commended Qatar’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but regretted the State party’s reservations towards the rights of migrants and women. 

Ms. Dah recommended that the State party establish a permanent mechanism to prepare reports to United Nations treaty bodies.  The Committee had also repeatedly requested that Qatar update its common core document.  Turning to article 14 of the Convention on individual communications, Ms. Dah encouraged Qatar to take measures to facilitate the work of the Committee in that respect. 

There was a need to strike a balance between the aspirations of Qatari citizens and migrant workers.  The influx of migrants meant that non-nationals made up two thirds of the workers.  The demographic makeup of the country concealed ethnic and tribal origins in Qatari society.  What were the countries of origin of migrant workers?  Were there any stateless persons in Qatar?

The Country Rapporteur reminded that Qatari legislation still did not contain a definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention.  She urged the State party to adopt an appropriate law and to consider the binding nature of article 4 of the Convention.  Were there examples of court cases that referred to the Convention? 

How were the plans pertaining to the Vision 2030 funded and staffed?  What was the impact of those plans on fighting racial discrimination?

On the National Commission for Human Rights, Ms. Dah reminded that the Committee had recommended that its resources and independence be strengthened.  Civil society organizations were permitted if they were not of a political nature, the Country Rapporteur noted. 

Ms. Dah commended Qatar’s support for Syrian, Libyan and Sudanese refugees.  What structures were in place to deal with asylum seekers and was the principle of non-refoulement respected? 

On migrant workers, the Country Rapporteur noted some progress, but said that the problem remained.  Had there been a reform of the kafala system in order to replace it with the system of contracts?  What progress had been made with respect to the confiscation of workers’ passports?  Were employers punished when they did not respect the law? 

The State party should also monitor the accommodation provided to migrant workers.  Ms. Dah wondered whether workers’ camps reinforced segregation, and called into question the differences in salaries paid to migrant workers. 

Would the recent Bill on Domestic Workers be in line with the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189?  What measures would be adopted to protect women domestic workers from rape and sexual abuse?

Legal institutions had gone through a profound reform, but justice was still in the hands of the Supreme Court.  Was the Court of Appeal functional and was it open to foreign nationals? 

Moving on to the justice system and the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Dah flagged the collusion between judges and prosecutors, inadequate means, and lack of interpretation during trials.  She invited the authorities to review the Nationality Law in order to allow Qatari women married to foreigners to pass nationality to their children, noting that the permanent residency card allowed such children to enjoy basic privileges. 

Was the State undertaking efforts to make public officials and the general public aware of foreign nationals in the country? 

Questions by Other Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, informed that the previous concluding observations of 2011 concerned restrictions on foreign residents buying and owning property in Qatar, reforming the legal framework on migrant workers, and the ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.  Unfortunately, the Committee had not received any information from the State party on those issues.  Mr. Kut reminded the State party that it was very important to submit answers to those questions.  How had the implementation of the Domestic Workers Bill progressed? 

An Expert noted that the recruitment of migrant workers was regulated by a law from 2009, which defined the sponsorship system and forbade workers to change jobs.  The new law of 2015 did not seem to contain any limit to the duration of a fixed contract for workers.  It also did not state whether the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Interior could deny migrant workers’ right to change employers. 

How many work-related injuries of migrant workers had been resolved?  There had been no cases of employers being held responsible.  What kinds of punishments were envisaged and settlement mechanisms available?

Did migrants have the right to family reunification and what conditions did they have to meet?  What were the conditions for naturalization?  Referring to some 6,000 persons (members of the Al Ghuffran tribe) who had been stripped of their nationality, an Expert inquired about the risk of statelessness?

Another Expert inquired about Qatar’s strategies to achieve peace and tolerance, which had the potential to break down stereotypes.  What were the indicators for measuring the impact of such strategies? 

The Experts stressed that it was important that Qatar ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, given the refugee crisis in the region.  Was primacy given to international instruments over any domestic laws that may be in conflict with them? 

Were there any rights and freedoms reserved for Qatari nationals alone?  Was discrimination based on nationality considered to be discriminatory and in conflict with the Convention? 

How could the Supreme Constitutional Court give its opinion on the constitutionality of its own initiatives?  Was there any limit to its jurisdiction?

What were the reasons for the massive fluctuation in women’s participation in elections?  When would equality be achieved in the passing of Qatari nationality?  How many children and pregnant women were held in detention?

Had Qatar reversed the burden of proof in civil and labour proceedings of racial discrimination?  Could the delegation provide more information about the Quick Labour Dispute Committee?

An Expert observed that it was paradoxical that Qatar had not yet acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

What were the concrete measures being taken to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and elderly persons?

In terms of access to justice, had Qatar taken concrete measures to ensure that interpreters dealing with migrant workers were legally trained?
   
Replies by the Delegation

SOLTAN BIN SAAD AL-MURAIKHI, State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, noted that Qatar would like to implement everything possible to improve the situation of migrants and women in the country.  The delegation was open to criticism and comments.  Qatar was a small but open society.  The head of the delegation noted that all foreigners had enriched the society of Qatar.

FAISAL BIN ABDULLA AL-HENZAB, Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, reiterated the political will of Qatar to meet all its international commitments, including those under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

The delegation stated that the signing of many international treaties had been a source of pressure for Qatar, which was why the Government had adopted a strategy of progressive adoption of international conventions.  The Government’s approach was to include the Convention provisions in national law.  Qatar was currently looking into adhering to UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education, and it had taken a series of relevant steps and measures with respect to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.

As for individual complaints, Qatar was looking into accepting it within all committees.  Turning to article 6 of the Convention on funding, the delegation reminded that Qatar supported the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and it was one of its priorities in terms of international cooperation.  It had supported the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with $ 4 million in the past several years.  Qatar had made donations to many United Nations funds, notably those dedicated to victims of torture, trafficking in persons and slavery.

Qatar had set up a division within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2017 to be in charge of monitoring the implementation of Qatar’s international commitments and of preparing reports.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs presided a commission which worked on preparing and drafting those documents.  Qatar had already established a body to be in charge of preparing reports to the Universal Periodic Review and of following up on all recommendations.  The Government had taken a number of legislative measures vis-à-vis asylum seekers and migrant workers, which was why it was late in submitting its follow-up report.

In terms of measures against racism, Qatar based all its actions on its history of tolerance and interaction with other peoples.  Those values were part of daily life in Qatar.  People of Qatar were naturally against racism and all its manifestations.  Many institutions engaged in programmes and activities that called for greater cooperation between various ethnicities, cultures and religions on the basis of justice and equality, such as the Qatar Committee for the Alliance of Civilization and the Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue.

The National Commission of Human Rights also organized a number of seminars on the rights of women and children with disabilities.  The Supreme Committee for Projects launched numerous initiatives to enrich cultural life, such as the programme on social responsibility.  Qatar hosted the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region.

On the independence of the National Commission of Human Rights, the delegation explained that its members enjoyed immunity and strong legal safeguards so that they could perform their mandate.  The State worked to implement the recommendations of the Commission issued in its annual reports, for example those relating to the kafala system. 

As for measuring the success of the National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations, the delegation noted that it was a soft tool for diplomacy.  Every year, Qatar hosted delegations of young leaders from Europe and the United States in order to create a dialogue of civilizations among youth.  The current National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations focused on education, youth, migration, and information and media. 

Turning to the rights of migrant workers, the delegation informed that the Government had adopted several laws to strengthen their rights, such as the adoption in 2015 of a law on the entry and exit of migrant workers and their residence in Qatar.  The law clearly stipulated the abolition of the kafala system and replaced it with contractual relationships between migrant workers and employers.  That law also abolished the need for migrant workers to seek an exit permit from employers, whereas it punished the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports by employers with a fine of 25,000 Qatari riyals. 

In terms of obtaining permanent residence, the demand should be renewed if a person was absent from Qatar for more than six months.  A person should also earn a sufficient livelihood, have no criminal record, and have sufficient command of the Arabic language.  The opportunity to apply for permanent residence was open to non-Qatari spouses of Qatari citizens and their children. 

Article 21 of the Constitution stipulated that those born to a Qatari father would have the right to Qatari citizenship.  The children of Qatari women and of naturalized Qatari citizens could also receive Qatari citizenship, but only before they reached the age of majority.  Children without known parents were entitled to Qatari citizenship to avoid being stateless. 

Qatari law defined as asylum seekers all persons who were stateless or victims of persecution.  Unless they were an important security risk, they could receive and enjoy a travel document, the right to work (except security related jobs), a monthly unemployment allowance, medical care, education, housing, freedom of religion and movement.  Such persons could bring to Qatar their immediate family members. 

The Supreme Constitutional Court had its own budget and it decided on disputes in line with the national Constitution.  Its rulings were final and could not be appealed.  The constitutional protection of the right to equality and non-discrimination had been promoted through Qatar’s accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  International conventions had the force of law after being published in the Official Gazette.

The right to vote and to stand for elections applied without any form of discrimination.  All citizens were equal in their rights and duties.  Women had for the first time participated in local elections as voters and candidates in 1999.  The Ministry of the Interior strove to educate public servants about human rights, including about racial discrimination.  Speaking of the withdrawal of Qatari nationality, the delegation stressed that Qatar did not recognize dual nationality.

Moving on to domestic workers, the delegation explained that the Ministry of the Interior had taken steps to expedite the procedures regarding any contravention of law.  Many international organizations had visited the Ministry of the Interior, including the International Labour Organization, the International Organization of Migration, the Red Cross, and Amnesty International to witness its workings.  There were only two cases of women detained with children.

Being one of the countries with the highest number of expatriates in the world, Qatar benefitted from their work and it had exerted great efforts to provide them with decent working conditions.  The Government was committed to adopting legislation that enhanced the rights of domestic workers and the transparency of their contracts in line with the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189 on domestic workers.  Persons younger than 18 could not be employed as domestic workers, and any abuse of domestic workers by family members was punishable under the Penal Code. 

Employers needed to provide decent housing, food and medical care for domestic workers.  Each domestic worker was entitled to fully paid annual leave.  At the end of service, employers had to pay domestic workers the end-of-service allowance, amounting to the salary for three weeks of work.  Disputes between employers and domestic workers would be resolved by the Dispute Settlement Committee.  The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs had organized many awareness raising campaigns on the Law on Domestic Workers, and it had disseminated it to countries that sent domestic workers.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Qatar, stressed that Qatar needed to review certain laws, such as the Law on Nationality.  Women did not hold a very good place in Qatari society.  Qatar could have appointed more than just four women to the Shura Council. 

Qatari women could play a greater role in dealing with employment issues.  It would be positive to train female labour inspectors.  It was natural for women to carry out labour inspections when it came to domestic workers, who were mostly women. 

In terms of family reunification, it was not natural for someone to travel far to work in a foreign country and live there without their family, Ms. Dah noted.  What was the current number of bilateral agreements signed by Qatar with countries providing labour force?

Turning to the housing conditions for migrant workers, the Country Rapporteur underlined that Qatar needed to ensure their quality.  Qatar could also consider drafting a law on rape. 

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, agreed with the delegation that certain follow-up issues required the State party to take more than a year to answer.  Nevertheless, he asked the delegation to indicate that it would indeed provide information raised by the Committee in the follow-up procedure.

The process of recruitment of foreign workers was monitored by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs.  An Expert suggested that the State party ensure that recruitment fees were not charged from migrant workers, especially vulnerable workers.

Another Expert reminded that the entry visa could not be granted to a migrant worker unless there was a certified employment contract between the worker and employer.  Which State authority was in charge of certifying employment contracts?  Had it ever happened that the competent authorities had annulled abusive employment contracts?  Did the authorities publish the rulings of committees in charge of interpreting the Labour Code and employment contracts? 

Replies by the Delegation
           
The delegation stated that Qatar had signed 36 bilateral agreements and five memoranda of understanding with the countries from which migrant workers came.  The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs had asked for a list of accredited recruitment agencies from those countries in order to ensure that workers did not sign false contracts that could lead to trafficking in persons.  The signing of employment contracts before migrant workers arrived in Qatar, thus, served to ensure their safety and rights.  The authorities had forbidden employment agencies from charging any recruitment fees to migrant workers.  The Government had created a fund for the support of migrant workers which aimed at securing the payment of dispute settlements and the return of migrant workers.

There was no distinction between women and men in terms of employment and housing, the delegation stressed.  The Vision 2030 addressed the empowerment of women, leading to the appointment of female ambassadors and diplomats, five female judges, five general prosecutors, and 17 lawyers.  The Penal Code contained a separate part devoted to the crimes of honour, including the crime of rape.

The criminalization of racial discrimination was reflected in several laws in Qatar, namely in the Penal Code and the Law on Cyber Security.  The Constitution stipulated the independence of judges and lawyers.  The Ministry of Education had developed concepts of tolerance and equality for teachers in primary and secondary education. 

Concluding Remarks 

FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Qatar, thanked the delegation for its cooperation with the Committee, noting that the Committee had learned a lot.  Qatar faced the problem of universality of rights, and it had to adopt special measures pursuant to the Convention to ensure that everyone was on an equal footing.  The Committee would draft its concluding observations, keeping in mind what was feasible. 

FAISAL BIN ABDULLA AL-HENZAB, Director of Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, thanked the Committee for a fruitful dialogue and stressed that Qatar had the political will to implement the provisions of the Convention.  The State party would benefit greatly from cooperation with international mechanisms and other countries.  Qatar would pursue the convening of training courses to ensure the prevention of racial discrimination, and it would present all the necessary statistics regarding the progress achieved in the implementation of the Convention. 

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation that it could submit any additional information in writing within the next 48 hours.  The Chairperson thanked the delegation for its participation and high-level of interaction with the Committee.

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