May 28, 2019
On May 15, 2019, Qatar’s human rights record was examined before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The UPR is a peer-review mechanism, during which UN Member States make recommendations to the state being reviewed on how to improve the human rights situation in the country. Qatar received recommendations from 104 states in total on a variety of topics including the state’s international obligations, counter-terrorism legislation, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, women’s rights, and migrant workers’ rights.
Qatar is required to notify Member States of the recommendations it wishes to accept, as well as those it wishes to note, during the 42nd session of the HRC in September 2019.
During its UPR, Qatar received 34 recommendations on ratifying and lifting reservations to international conventions, as well as on acceding to their Optional Protocols.
As outlined in MENA Rights Group’s shadow report ahead of the review, while Qatar acceded to the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in May 2018, it made a number of reservations and declared that it would interpret particular provisions in line with Sharia Law.
Among other states, Senegal, Denmark and the Czech Republic addressed some of the concerns raised in MENA Rights Group’s shadow report, including through recommending that Qatar ratify the Optional Protocols to the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture (UNCAT), as well as that the state withdraw its reservations to the conventions.
Similarly, Austria, the Netherlands, Romania and Lichtenstein recommended that Qatar lift reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The latter three states in particular focused on problematic nationality laws, calling on Qatar to grant women equal rights with men with respect to their ability to pass their nationality to their children, as well as equal rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality, as enshrined in Article 9 of the CEDAW.
Qatar received two recommendations on reforming domestic counter-terrorism and national security legislation. The Czech Republic recommended that the state “review its existing national security and counter-terrorism laws in order to bring its legislation into conformity with the [UNCAT] and other international standards”.
Reflecting a recommendation suggested by MENA Rights Group, Iceland called on Qatar to “bring domestic counter-terrorism legislation into line with international standards, particularly in relation to the definition of terrorism and the length of custody and pre-trial detention.”
Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
Qatar received a large number of recommendations on the right to freedom of expression. In particular, France, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Austria recommended that Qatar amend provisions of the Cybercrime Law and Penal Code that criminalise the right to freedom of expression.
In accordance with recommendations made by MENA Rights Group, Canada called on Qatar to “respect freedom of expression in traditional and online media by eliminating restrictions on expressions criticising State institutions and officials”. Germany and Slovakia, on the other hand, made more general recommendations, calling on Qatar to respect freedom of expression by refraining from placing undue restrictions on this right.
Australia made a recommendation to Qatar to “remove all obstacles to freedom of expression and association, including for human rights defenders, and ensure the safety of journalists through the protection of media freedoms”. Argentina and the Czech Republic called on Qatar to bring its domestic legislation on freedom of association into line with international standards, with the latter calling for the decriminalisation of unlicensed gatherings.
In addition to the recommendations on removing reservations to the CEDAW, women’s rights was one of the topics raised most frequently by UN Member States during Qatar’s review, with more than 66 recommendations directly addressing women’s rights and gender equality.
A number of states recommended that Qatar adopt legislation to combat violence against women and girls. States including Germany, Slovenia, Albania and Belgium urged Qatar to criminalise domestic violence, with a number of these states adding that the definition of domestic violence must be broad enough to protect all persons, including domestic workers.
Labour rights and migrant workers’ rights
Several states recommended that Qatar reform its labour laws to expand protection for all workers. Qatar also received a number of recommendations urging it to enact legislation and take other measures to promote and protect the rights of migrant workers in the country and to ensure they are protected from abuse and exploitation.
In Qatar, migrant workers make up 90% of the national work force, yet they continue to face severe rights violations, including the denial of their right to unionise, and the persistence of the sponsorship and exit visa systems.
Ireland, Italy, France, Myanmar, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S.A. addressed the exit visa system in their recommendations, with a number urging the state to abolish this system outright, with many making specific references to domestic workers.
France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Myanmar, Spain and Uganda also called on Qatar to abolish the sponsorship or “kafala” system, under which migrants workers’ legal status is controlled by a single employer-sponsor.
The next steps
Qatar has until the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council – which will run from September 9 to September 27, 2019 – to provide responses to the recommendations it received during its UPR.
By accepting recommendations, Qatar commits itself to implementing these changes ahead of its next review, which will take place in 2024.