Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Qatar

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Qatar, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4c24.html [accessed 25 April 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.
 

Qatar, an Arab state on the Persian Gulf, is a monarchy without democratically elected institutions or political parties. It is ruled by an Amir from the Al Thani family. The 1970 Basic Law 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 continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen's right to appeal personally to the Amir. In practice, the Amir must consider the opinions of leading citizens, whose influence is institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Amir in formulating policy.

The Government operates an efficient security apparatus. The civilian security apparatus, controlled by the Interior Ministry, has two sections, the police and the General Administration of Public Security. A second branch of the Interior Ministry, the Investigatory Police (Mubahathat), deals with sedition and espionage. The Mubahathat is nearly independent of the regular civil security forces and has been known to use severe force in its investigations. It can incarcerate suspects without charge but reportedly does this infrequently. The armed forces have under their jurisdiction another enforcement organization, known as the Intelligence Service (Mukhabarat), whose function is to intercept and arrest terrorists and to monitor political dissidents.

Qatar's economy is mixed. The State owns and operates most basic industries and services, while retail trade and the construction industry remain in private hands. Oil is the principal product, accounting for about 70 percent of the gross national product. However the country's extensive natural gas resources are expected to play an increasingly important role in the economy. The rapid development of Qatar's infrastructure in the 1970's and early 1980's led to the creation of a ratio of expatriates (mostly south Asian and Arab) to nationals of four to one. The Government has continued efforts, begun during the economic downturn of the 1980's, to reduce this ratio by offering many positions in the Government to Qatari citizens only.

Human rights remain closely restricted. The main human rights problems include the denial of the right of citizens to change their government, arbitrary detentions in security cases, and restrictions on worker rights and the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Constraints on women's rights continued, as did the systematic discrimination faced by non-Qatari workers.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killings

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

There were no reports of torture. Instances of torture have been reported in the past, usually by the security forces during the investigative phase following detention. Improved standards of conduct were introduced in 1989. The Government administers most corporal punishment prescribed by Shari'a law but does not allow amputation.

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, however, are generally not afforded access to counsel and may be detained indefinitely while under investigation.

Involuntary exile is rare. There were no reported cases in 1993.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are two types of courts: the civil courts, which have jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters, and the Shari'a Court, which has jurisdiction in family and criminal cases. There are no permanent security courts; security cases, which are extremely rare, are tried by ad hoc military courts. Defendants tried by all types of courts may submit their cases to an appeals court. However, in cases tried by the Shari'a Court, it is possible that the same judges will hear both the original case and the appeal.

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. Qatar's legal system is biased in favor of Qataris and the Government.

The Shari'a Court may assume jurisdiction in commercial or civil cases if requested to do so by a Muslim litigant. 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 when being sued by, or trying to sue, a Qatari national.

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 translators, foreigners are disadvantaged, especially in cases involving the performance of contracts.

Shari'a trials are normally brief. After both parties have stated their cases and examined witnesses, judges are likely to deliver a verdict after only a short deliberation. Criminal cases are normally tried 2 to 3 months after suspects are detained. There is no provision for release on bail in criminal cases. However, foreigners charged with minor crimes may be released to a Qatari sponsor. They are required to deposit their passport with the police and are prohibited from leaving Qatar until the case is resolved.

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 of Qatar. A warrant must normally 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 themselves, rather than by judicial authorities. There were no reports of unauthorized searches of homes in 1993. 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

Foreigners and Qataris can and do express political opinions in private. However, public criticism of the ruling family or of Islam is not tolerated. The Government also discourages public criticism of other Arab governments. This policy also applies to the government-owned electronic media and the privately owned press.

Since December 1989, the Government has permitted a modest degree of freedom of the press, although still within limits. Arrayah, the country's official newspaper, was suspended for 3 days during the summer. This decision followed an official protest by the Embassy of Kuwait regarding the paper's overt support for the acquisition of Iraqi players by a local soccer team. Non-Qatari journalists generally avoid challenging press restrictions because of the risk of having residence permits canceled. Cable television service was introduced in 1993, although it is subject to government censorship. The Customs Division of the Ministry of Finance and Petroleum routinely screens incoming video cassettes, audio tapes, books, and periodicals for politically objectionable or pornographic content. Locally published books and other materials and all dramatic productions must be cleared by a board of censors before release.

There are no legal provisions for academic freedom. Most instructors at the University of Qatar are believed to exercise self-censorship.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These rights are severely limited. The Government does not allow political parties or political demonstrations or membership in international professional organizations critical of the Government or any other Arab government. The Government allows private social, sports, trade, professional, and cultural societies to operate, but they must register with the Government, and their activities are closely watched. Membership in international professional organizations critical of the Government, or any other Arab government, is not permitted. The Government does not allow political parties or political demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

Qatar's state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the puritanical Wahabbi branch of the Sunni tradition. Adherents of religions other than Islam are prohibited from public worship and may not proselytize. In 1993 two leaders of a Christian group known as the Indian Brethren were arrested and subsequently deported, allegedly for converting a Hindu to Christianity. Apostasy from Islam is a capital offense, although no one is known to have been executed for it. The Government tolerates the private practice of non-Muslim religions, and non-Muslim parents may raise their children in their own faiths. Private gatherings of non-Muslims are tolerated but are closely monitored for political content. The Government allows Shi'a Muslims to practice their faith. However, the latter have tacitly agreed to refrain from the more public aspects of their rituals, such as self-flagellation.

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, Qatari men may prevent female relatives from leaving the country by placing their names with immigration officers at ports of departure. Technically, Qatari 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.

All Qatari citizens have the right to return. Foreigners are subject to immigration restrictions designed to control the size of the local labor pool. Foreigners who work in Qatar must have a sponsor (usually an employer) in order to enter the country. They must also obtain the sponsor's permission to leave.

The Government has no formal refugee policy. Those attempting to enter illegally, including officials 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 keep their employment. Foreign women married to Qataris are granted residence permits and may apply for Qatari citizenship. However, they are expected to give up their foreign citizenship in exchange.

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

Citizens do not have the legal right to change their government or the political system peacefully. Qatar has no formal democratic institutions. There were 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. Qatar's 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. His rule, however, is tempered by local custom. Interlocking family networks and the recognized right of citizens to submit appeals or petitions directly 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 policies.

Under Qatar's Basic Law of 1970, the Amir must be chosen from and by the adult males of the Al Thani family. The current Amir, Khalifa bin Hamad, has designated his son, Hamad bin Khalifa, as the heir apparent. This designation was made with the consent of the notables and religious leaders in accordance with local custom.

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

Local human rights organizations are not permitted to exist, and no international human rights organization is known to have asked to investigate conditions in Qatar.

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

Women

The activities of Qatari women are closely restricted both by law and by traditional customs. For example, Qatari women are prohibited from applying for drivers' licenses unless they have permission from a male guardian. This restriction does not apply to non-Qatari women. Qatar 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, it is rare for wives to obtain custody of children and impossible if the father is Muslim and the wife is not. Women may attend court proceedings but are generally represented by a male relative.

Qatari 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 indicate whether they are receiving equal pay for equal work. Increasingly, Qatari women are receiving government scholarships to pursue degrees at universities overseas. Although Qatari women are legally able to travel abroad alone (see Section 2.d.), traditions and social pressures cause most to travel with male escorts.

Violence against women, primarily foreign domestic workers, occurs in Qatar but is not believed to be widespread. However, some foreign domestics working in Qatar (especially those from south Asia and the Philippines) have suffered severe mistreatment. In keeping with Islamic law, all forms of physical abuse are illegal, and the maximum penalty for rape is death. The police actively investigate reports of violence against women. In 1992 and 1993, the Government demonstrated an increased willingness to arrest and punish offenders, both Qatari and non-Qatari. However, most domestic worker victims do not press charges for fear of losing their jobs and being deported. The law is applied unevenly, with Qataris facing lighter punishment than foreigners.

Children

Great importance is placed upon children in Qatari society. The Government provides most medical care for free to all residents, including children. Qatari children and the children of expatriates employed by the Government are allowed to enroll in public schools without charge.

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.

Religious Minorities

Non-Muslims experience discrimination in employment, particularly in sensitive areas such as security and education.

People with Disabilities

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

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 1993.

Qatar's labor law provides for the establishment of joint consultative committees composed of representatives of the employer and workers. The committees may consider issues including work organization and productivity, conditions of employment, training of workers, and safety measures and their implementation.

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

There have been no reports of forced or compulsory labor, which are prohibited by law. However, employers must give consent before exit permits are issued to any foreigner seeking to leave the country. There have been instances of employers withholding this consent in retribution against departing employees.

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 age 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. While little information is available on wages and working conditions for these children, accidents involving serious injury or death have been known to occur.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage in Qatar, 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 Industry and Public Works, 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 legally recognized organization or a Qatari citizen. Foreign workers need a sponsor to receive a visa to enter Qatar as well as the sponsor's permission to leave. Theoretically, any worker may seek legal relief from onerous work conditions. However, domestic workers, who experience the most difficulties, generally accept their situations in order to avoid repatriation.

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