Qatar: Combating Terror or Abusing Human Rights?

Despite claims of supporting counter-terrorism policies, Qatar continues to abuse the human rights of citizens and non-citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, security and economic stability. On April 4, during a meeting in Washington D.C. with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Thani said that their approach of combating terrorism should be holistic by “defeating the act of terror and addressing the roots of the terrorism politically, socially, and economically.” However, the laws adopted by the Qatari government in an attempt to combat terrorism and protect the community have been misused to target and imprison individuals with critical views of the government and its policies.

After visiting Qatar in 2015, Gabriela Knaul, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, highlighted the flaws in Qatar’s judicial system. The Code of Criminal procedure mandates that persons convicted must be presented to a prosecutor within 24 hours of their detention. However, this law does not apply to persons convicted under the Law on Combating Terrorism, the Law on the Protection of Community, or the State Security Services Law.  In 2011, authorities arrested the Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami for reciting a poem in support of the Arab uprisings and charged him with “inciting to overthrow the ruling system.” Though Al-Ajmi was later released, his trial and investigation were marred by irregularities. He was not presented to a prosecutor within the required 24 hours and was held in solitary confinement for months.

Furthermore, Qatar continues to violate the human rights of migrant workers. Qatar’s economy, like others in the GCC, relies heavily on cheap foreign labor. In the oil-rich Gulf state, an estimated 1,200 migrant workers have died due to unsafe working conditions. Moreover, the Qatari government has violated the human rights of migrant workers involved in the construction of the FIFA 2022 World Cup stadiums by stripping them of their passports, delaying the payment of their wages, and forcing them to live in unsanitary labor camps.

These incidents show that the so-called ‘anti-terror’ and ‘community protection’ laws in Qatar are used to silence and punish dissent, and that the oil-rich state continues to abuse the human rights of migrant workers. The United States and the international community should hold the Qatari authorities accountable for adopting policies that show a lack of appreciation of human lives and human rights.