UN Special Procedures Publish Allegation Letter to Qatar on Discriminatory Treatment of the Bahá’í Religious Minority

On 16 August 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief sent an to the Government of Qatar. The letter brought forth allegations concerning the discriminatory treatment of the Bahá’í religious minority in Qatar, specifically involving deportations, blacklisting, the inability to build a cemetery, and issues with personal legal status.

According to the letter, several families of Qatar’s Bahá’í minority have reported experiencing administrative deportations and “blacklisting,” which have resulted in the separation of families, loss of employment, and loss of income. Qatar has terminated residence permits and has made it extremely difficult to renew or grant visas. Most of the individuals that have experienced deportation or blacklisting have clean records, and are long-term residents of Qatar or initially received visas or permits based on employment or family in the country. The government provided no reason for the deportation and blacklisting, and the Special Rapporteurs noted that if pressed, the Qatari government often contradicts itself or does not provide any official record.

The letter from Special Procedures highlights the circumstances of 13 individuals, all who have been deported and/or blacklisted by the Qatari government due their Bahá’í faith. Individuals of various nationalities, including Canadian, Indian, Jordanian, and Malaysian, have been stripped of their Qatari residence and employment permits and forced to leave the country. In most instances, the Qatari government provided no explanation for these deportations. In some cases, the government states that it was instructed by the Internal Security Department, but all of the deported individuals had clean records that did not show any security concerns or pending criminal action.

The Special Rapporteurs’ letter also discussed the restrictions on the construction of a Bahá’í cemetery on land that was granted by the Municipality of Doha. This cemetery has been an ongoing issue since 2009, when authorities broke into the cemetery, exhumed the remains, and relocated them on the instructions of the Doha Municipality. This caused many families emotional stress and has led to the inability to identify some remains. Later that year, the Minister of the Municipality did eventually apologize and stated that new land would be allocated. In 2010 and 2015 new locations were identified and budgets were allocated, however despite regular follow up from the Bahá’í community, there has been no construction and no progress made.

Additionally, the Allegation Letter addressed the difficulties the Bahá’í community faces in upholding their personal legal status. Qatari authorities do not recognize Bahá’í documents like marriage licenses, divorces, or inheritance papers unless they have been attested to or obtained abroad. This requires extensive and expensive travel that delays and complicates legal obligations. An attempt has been made by the Bahá’í community to have the Ministry of Justice accept and authenticate Bahá’í documents, however the Minister has not decided on the matter.

The UN Special Rapporteurs express serious concern as to the allegations against the Qatari government, specifically the inherent discrimination against Bahá’í individuals based on their religion and beliefs. The obstacles members of the Bahá’í community face in acquiring legal documents and the threat of deportation and blacklisting threatens financial and familial security. The barriers faced in obtaining legal documents and the inability to acquire and maintain a burial ground has severely impacted the right to freedom of religion and belief, as well as the right to enjoy cultural heritage and the memory of family. As mandated by the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteurs requested that the Qatari government provide information on the allegations above; specifically, legal and factual grounds for deportation, updates on the construction of a cemetery, accommodation of document authentication, and the broader promotion of freedom of religion. The government of Qatar has not yet responded.