Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2014, 13:28 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Qatar

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Qatar, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa24c.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

Qatar, an Arab state on the Persian Gulf, is a monarchy without democratically elected institutions or political parties. It is governed by the ruling Al-Thani family through its head, the Amir. In June 1995, the ruling family, in consultation with other leading Qatari families, replaced Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani with his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. This transition of authority did not represent a change in the basic governing order. While the change of rulers was accepted in public statements by most members of the ruling family and without notable objections from the general public, there remains a reservoir of support for the former Amir. However, in October the former Amir concluded an agreement to return several billion dollars from his private accounts to the state treasury. This agreement is apparently tacit recognition of the legitimacy of his son's regime. The former Amir and his retinue were implicated in a foiled coup attempt in February.

The amended Provisional Constitution, promulgated in April 1972, institutionalizes the customs and mores of the country's conservative Islamic heritage. These include respect for the sanctity of private property, freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and punishment of transgressions against Islamic law. The Amir holds absolute power, the exercise of which is influenced by consultation with leading citizens, rule by consensus, and the right of any citizen to appeal personally to the Amir. The Amir considers the opinions of leading citizens, whose influence is institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Amir in formulating policy.

Qatar has efficient police and security services. The civilian security force, controlled by the Interior Ministry, comprises two sections: The police and the General Administration of Public Security; and the Investigatory Police (Mubahathat) which is responsible for sedition and espionage cases. The armed forces have under their jurisdiction the Intelligence Service (Mukhabarat), which is responsible for combating terrorism and monitoring political dissidence.

The State owns most basic industries and services, but the retail and construction industries are in private hands. Oil is the principal natural resource, but the country's extensive natural gas resources will play an increasingly important role. The rapid development of the 1970's and 1980's created an economy in which expatriate workers, mostly South Asian and Arab, outnumber Qataris by a ratio of 4 or 5 to 1. The

Government tries to reduce this ratio by offering many government jobs only to citizens.

There was no significant change in the human rights situation. Human rights remain restricted, particularly the denial of the right of citizens to change their government, arbitrary detentions in security cases, restrictions on worker rights, and the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Women's rights are closely restricted, and non-Qatari workers face systematic discrimination.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There have been no reported instances of torture for several years. The Government administers most corporal punishment prescribed by Islamic law but does not allow amputation.

Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards. The Government does not permit domestic human rights groups to exist, and no international human rights organization has asked to visit the country or its prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The authorities generally charge suspects within 48 hours. In most cases involving foreigners, the police promptly notify the appropriate consular representative. Suspects detained in security cases are generally not afforded access to counsel and may be detained indefinitely while under investigation. There are no known recent cases of incommunicado detention.

Involuntary exile has occurred but is rare. There were no reported cases this year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is nominally independent, but most judges are foreign nationals who hold residence permits granted by the civil authorities and thus hold their positions at the Government's pleasure.

The judiciary is buried under the bureaucratic layers of two ministries. Civil (or Adlea) courts are subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, and religious (or Shari'a) courts fall under the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs. The prosecutors fall under the Ministry of Interior.

There are three types of courts: the civil courts, which have jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters; the Shari'a Court, which has jurisdiction in family and criminal cases; and the rarely convened state security courts. There are no permanent state security courts. Security cases, which are rare, are tried by ad hoc military courts. Although state security cases may be conducted in secret, there have been no cases before these courts since the new Amir assumed power. Defendants tried by all courts have the right to appeal. Occasionally in the Shari'a Court, the same judge will hear the original case and the appeal.

The legal system is biased in favor of Qataris and the Government. A Muslim litigant may request the Shari'a Court to assume jurisdiction in commercial or civil cases. Non-Muslims are not allowed to bring suits as plaintiffs in the Shari'a Court. This practice prevents non-Muslim residents from obtaining full legal recourse. Trials in the civil courts are public, but in the Shari'a Court only the disputing parties, their relatives, associates, and witnesses are allowed in the courtroom. Lawyers do not play a formal role except to prepare litigants for their cases. Although non-Arabic speakers are provided with interpreters, foreigners are disadvantaged, especially in cases involving the performance of contracts.

Defendants appear before a judge for a preliminary hearing within 7 days of their arrest. Judges may extend pretrial detention a week at a time to allow the authorities to conduct investigations. Defendants in the civil courts have the right to be represented by defense attorneys but are not always permitted to be represented by counsel in the Shari'a court.

Shari'a trials are usually brief. Shari'a family law trials are often held without counsel. After both parties have stated their cases and examined witnesses, judges are likely to deliver a verdict after a short deliberation. Criminal cases are normally tried within 2 to 3 months after suspects are detained. There is no provision for bail in criminal cases. However, foreigners charged with minor crimes may be released to a Qatari sponsor. They are prohibited from departing the country until the case is resolved.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.

Traditional attitudes of respect for the sanctity of the home provide a great deal of protection against arbitrary intrusions for most citizens and residents. A warrant must be obtained before police may search a residence or business, except in cases involving national security or emergencies. However, warrants are issued by police officials rather than by judicial authorities. There were no reports of unauthorized searches of homes during the year. The police and security forces are believed to monitor the communications of suspected criminals, those considered to be security risks, and selected foreigners.

With prior permission, which is usually granted, Qataris may marry foreigners of any nationality and apply for residence permits for their spouses.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The freedom of speech and press is significantly restricted. However, censorship of the local print media was formally lifted in 1995. Since then, the press has been essentially free of government interference. On at least two occasions, however, local newspapers were closed temporarily when their contents ran afoul of government sensitivities: El Watan when it prematurely published the concluding document of the 1995 GCC Summit, and El Sharq for printing a poem considered offensive to Saudi Arabia. The censorship function continues, however, for movies, videos, radio and television programming (including cable), and the foreign press. Although they increasingly test the limits, journalists continue to practice self-censorship. Social and political pressures for self-censorship will determine whether the new policy will usher in a period of increased public information and debate. Although the Ministry of Information was dissolved in October 1996, the ultimate effect of the suspension of formal press censorship is mitigated by the existence of a separate and unaffected censorship organ within the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs. This office is charged with the protection of public morality and religious values. As a result, cable television programming is still delayed for censorship, and offensive photos and stories continue to be blacked out of some foreign publications.

Customs officials routinely screen imported video cassettes, audio tapes, books, and periodicals for politically objectionable or pornographic content. Foreign cable television service was introduced in 1993, but censors review broadcasts for objectionable material.

There is no legal provision for academic freedom. Most instructors at the University of Qatar exercise self-censorship.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These rights are severely limited. The Government does not allow political parties, political demonstrations, or membership in international professional organizations critical of the Government or any other Arab government. Private social, sports, trade, professional, and cultural societies must be registered with the Government. Security forces monitor the activities of such groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

The state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the puritanical Wahabbi branch of the Sunni tradition. Non-Muslims are prohibited from public worship and may not proselytize. The Government tolerates private gatherings of non-Muslims but closely monitors them for political content. Non-Muslim parents may raise their children in their own faiths. The Government allows Shi'a Muslims to practice their faith. However, the latter have tacitly agreed to refrain from such public rituals as self-flagellation.

Conversion from Islam to another religion is a capital offense, although no one is known to have been executed for it.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on internal travel, except around sensitive military and oil installations. Generally, women do not require permission from male guardians to travel. However, men may prevent female relatives from leaving the country by placing their names with immigration officers at ports of departure. Technically, women employed by the Government must obtain official permission to travel abroad when requesting leave, but it is not known to what extent this regulation is enforced. Citizens critical of the Government face restrictions on their right to travel abroad.

All citizens have the right to return. Foreigners are subject to immigration restrictions designed to control the size of the local labor pool. Foreign workers must have a sponsor, usually their employer, to enter or depart the country. Foreign women married to Qataris are granted residence permits and may apply for citizenship. However, they are expected to relinquish their foreign citizenship.

The Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. Those attempting to enter illegally, including persons seeking to defect from nearby countries, are refused entry. Asylum seekers who can obtain local sponsorship or employment are allowed to enter and may remain as long as they are employed.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the right to change their government or the political system peacefully. Qatar has no formal democratic institutions. There have been reports that some of the 19 signers of a December 1991 petition calling for greater political freedom and constitutional reform continued to be subject to travel restrictions. The political institutions blend the characteristics of a traditional Bedouin tribal state and a modern bureaucracy. There are no political parties, elections, or organized opposition groups.

The Amir exercises most executive and legislative powers, including appointment of cabinet members. However, his rule is tempered by local custom. Interlocking family networks, together with the right of citizens to submit appeals or petitions to the Amir, provide informal avenues for the redress of many grievances. The custom of rule by consensus leads to extensive consultations among the Amir, leading merchant families, religious leaders, and other notables on important matters.

Under the amended Provisional Constitution, the Amir must be chosen from and by the adult males of the Al Thani family.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not permit local human rights organizations to exist. No international human rights organizations are known to have asked to investigate conditions in Qatar.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Religion, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Institutional, cultural, and legal discrimination based on gender, race, religion, social status, and disability exists.

Women

Violence against women and spousal abuse occur but are not believed to be widespread. However, some foreign domestics, especially those from South Asia and the Philippines, have been severely mistreated by employers. In keeping with Islamic law, all forms of physical abuse are illegal. The maximum penalty for rape is death. The police actively investigate reports of violence against women. In the last few years, the Government has demonstrated an increased willingness to arrest and punish offenders, whether citizens or foreigners. Offenders who are citizens usually receive lighter punishments than foreigners. Abused domestic workers usually do not press charges for fear of losing their jobs.

The activities of women are closely restricted both by law and tradition. For example, a woman is prohibited from applying for a driver's license unless she has permission from a male guardian. This restriction does not apply to non-Qatari women. The Government adheres to Shari'a law in matters of inheritance and child custody. While Muslim wives have the right to inherit from their husbands, non-Muslim wives do not, unless a special legacy is arranged. In cases of divorce, wives rarely obtain custody of children and never if the wife is not a Muslim. Women may attend court proceedings but are generally represented by a male relative. There has been a steady increase in the number and severity of complaints of spousal abuse by foreign wives of Qatari and foreign national men.

Women are largely relegated to the roles of mother and homemaker, but some women are now finding jobs in education, medicine, and the news media. However, the number of professional women is too small to determine whether they are receiving equal pay for equal work. Increasingly, women are receiving government scholarships to pursue degrees at universities overseas. The Amir has entrusted his second wife, who is the mother of the Heir Apparent, with the high-profile task of establishing a university in Doha. In November the Government appointed its first female undersecretary, in the Ministry of Education. Although women are legally able to travel abroad alone (see Section 2.d.), tradition and social pressures cause most to travel with male escorts. There have also been complaints that Qatari husbands retrieved their foreign spouses' passports and, without prior approval, turned them in for Qatari documents. The husbands then inform these wives that they had lost their previous nationality. In other cases, foreign citizen wives report being forbidden by husbands or in-laws to visit or contact foreign embassies.

There is no independent women's rights organization, nor would the Government permit the establishment of one.

Children

The Government demonstrates its commitment to children's rights through a well-funded, free public education system (elementary through university) and a complete medical protection program for Qatari children. However, children of most foreigners are denied free education and have only limited medical coverage.

There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.

People with Disabilities

The Government has not enacted legislation or otherwise mandated provision of accessibility for the handicapped, who also face social discrimination. The Government maintains a hospital and schools that provide free services to the mentally and physically handicapped.

Religious Minorities

Non-Muslims experience discrimination in employment, particularly in sensitive areas such as security and education. Non-Muslims also encounter official prohibitions in the public practice of their religions (see Section 2.c.).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government discriminates against some citizens of non-Qatari origin. In the private sector, many Qataris of Iranian extraction occupy positions of the highest importance. However, in government they are rarely found in senior decisionmaking positions.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The right of association is strictly limited, and all workers, including foreigners, are prohibited from forming labor unions. Despite this, almost all workers have the right to strike after their case has been presented to the Labor Conciliation Board and ruled upon. Employers may close a place of work or dismiss employees once the Conciliation Board has heard the case. The right to strike does not exist for government employees, domestic workers, or members of the employer's family. No worker in a public utility or health or security service may strike if such a strike would harm the public or lead to property damage. Strikes are rare, and there were none in 1995.

The labor law provides for the establishment of joint consultative committees composed of representatives of the employer and workers. The committees do not discuss wages but may consider issues including work organization and productivity, conditions of employment, training of workers, and safety measures and their implementation.

Since July 1995, Qatar has been suspended from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance programs because of the Government's lack of compliance with internationally recognized worker rights standards.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining. Generally, wages are set unilaterally by employers without government involvement. Local courts handle disputes between workers and employers.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Three-quarters of the work force are migrant workers, who are frequently dependent on a single employer for residency rights. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse. For instance, employers must give consent before exit permits are issued to any foreigner seeking to leave the country. Some employers temporarily withhold this consent to force foreign employees to work for longer periods than they wish.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may be employed with the approval of their parents or guardians. However, younger non-Qatari children sometimes work in small, family-owned businesses. Education is compulsory through the age of 15. While the laws governing the minimum age for employment of children are not strictly enforced, child labor, either Qatari or foreign, is rare. Very young children, usually of African or South Asian background, have been employed as riders in camel racing. Little information is available on wages and working conditions for these children.

Minors may not work more than 6 hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Labor with the names and occupations of their minor employees. The Ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs which are judged as dangerous to the health, safety, or morals of minors. Employers must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Education to hire a minor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage, although a 1962 law gives the Amir authority to set one. The 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period is prescribed by law, although most government offices follow a schedule of 36 hours a week. Employees who work more than 48 hours a week, or 36 hours a week during the Muslim month of Ramadan, are entitled to overtime. This law is adhered to in government offices and major private sector companies. It is not observed in the case of domestic and personal employees. Domestic servants frequently work 7 days a week, more than 12 hours a day, with few or no holidays, and have no effective way to redress grievances against their employers.

Qatar has enacted regulations concerning worker safety and health, but enforcement, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy and Industry, is lax. The Department of Public Safety oversees safety training and conditions, and the state-run petroleum company has its own set of safety standards and procedures. The Labor Law of 1964, as amended in 1984, lists partial and permanent disabilities for which compensation may be awarded, some connected with handling chemicals and petroleum products or construction injuries. The law does not specifically set rates of payment and compensation.

Foreign workers must be sponsored by a citizen or legally recognized organization to obtain an entry visa and must have their sponsor's permission to depart the country. Any worker may seek legal relief from onerous work conditions, but domestic workers generally accept their situations in order to avoid repatriation.

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