European Union External Action

Qatar: 2020 EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World

18/07/2021 - 12:21

1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Throughout 2020, Qatar continued to reform its Labour Laws aiming at improving the living and working conditions of its large migrant worker population (over 85% of the country's population). Those reforms entailed the de facto dismantling of the sponsorship (kefala) system in the country. In November, the Government of Qatar announced to hold the first ever elections for the Advisory Body (Shura Council) in 2021. Political and civil liberties continued to be subject to restrictions. Backsliding occurred with regard to the death penalty, as one execution was reported, as well as on women rights.

In January, new legislation extended the abolition of exit visas to essentially all migrant workers, including domestic workers, allowing them to leave the country either temporarily or permanently if they desire to do so. In August 2020, new legislation removed the requirement for migrant workers to obtain their employer's permission to change jobs and adopted the first non-discriminatory minimum wage in the Gulf region. These measures, labelled as historic by the International Labour Organization (ILO), effectively entailed the dismantling of the kafala sponsorship system that previously governed the employment of migrant workers and yielded extensive control over the workers to the employer. In October 2020, the ban on outdoor working hours during summer was extended increasing workers' protection from heat stress.

In November, the government announced the organisation of the first ever elections for 30 of the 45-member Advisory Body (Shura Council) in October 2021. In December, the government confirmed the compliance with FIFA regulations including on rainbow flags which will be allowed at stadiums in the context of the FIFA 2022 World Cup despite LGTBI restrictions under the Qatari Penal Code. While Islam is the state religion as per the Constitution, eight registered Christian denominations continued to be allowed to hold services in dedicated places of worship. Other non-registered religious groups remained unregulated but allowed to practice their faith in private. The Doha International Center for Inter-faith Dialogue held conferences on inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance on a regular basis.

Political and civil liberties continued to be significantly restricted. In May, a foreign citizen, convicted of murder by a Qatari court, was executed ending a 17 year-long de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Legislation limiting the freedom of speech, including restrictive procedures on the establishment and closure of newspapers, and the confiscation of assets of a publication remained in place with self-censorship being the primary result. The Law on Combating Cybercrime continued to apply to digital media curtailing free speech and press. While gender equality is protected by the Constitution, Qatari women continued to face instances of domestic violence and discrimination in some forms - notably inability to transfer citizenship to their children, and regarding inheritance rights. In October 2020, women on several flights were strip-searched, with some subjected to intimate medical examinations, at Doha airport after an abandoned new-born baby was found in the terminal. The Qatari government apologised for the incident and referred staff in violation of procedures to legal prosecution.

2. EU Action - key focus areas: The EU continued to raise human rights issues with its Qatari counterparts, including migrant workers' rights. The EU welcomed labour reforms entailing the dismantling of the kafala sponsorship system in January 2020 and September 2020, respectively. EU Heads of Mission in Qatar welcomed the announcement by the government on the organisation of the first ever elections for 30 of the 45-member Advisory Body (Shura Council). Following the execution of a foreign citizen in May, the EU reached out to the competent Qatari authorities reiterating the EU's principled stance against the use of the death penalty in all cases.

3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU regularly engaged with Qatari interlocutors on human rights issues, as part of the overall political relations between the EU and Qatar.

The EUSR for Human Rights visited Qatar in February 2020 on his first mission to the Gulf region and engaged with Qatari authorities and the National Human Rights Committee. Throughout his visit, the EUSR acknowledged progress in the gradual abolition of the kefala system and commended the cooperation with the ILO and the attention paid to labour rights and workers' welfare including in the context of the preparations of the FIFA 2022 World Cup. He made a field visit to the construction site of the Lusail stadium where he talked to workers and their representatives and assessed their working and housing conditions. The EUSR also pointed out to laws and amendments unduly restricting freedom of expression and encouraged further progress on women's rights. During his visit, the EUSR opened the International Conference on 'Social Media: Challenges and Ways to Promote Freedoms and Protect Activists' in Doha. Members of the European Parliament also attended the conference.

4. EU financial engagement: There is no EU financial support provided for human rights- related activities in Qatar. However, in July 2020, the EU Delegation to Kuwait - co-accredited to Qatar - together with the ILO and the Qatari Ministry of Social Affairs - organised an online workshop through the instrument for Technical Assistance and Information Exchange where European experts provided guidance and advice about the establishment of job-matching platforms (existing in EU Member States) aimed at improving labour market conditions for foreign labour and to enhance labour mobility.

5. Multilateral context: Following its 2017 re-election, Qatar was a member of the Human Rights Council for the period 2018 - 2020. Qatar did not ratify any of the international human rights instruments in 2020 to which the country is not yet a party. The UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Alena Douhan, visited Qatar in November 2020 and published preliminary findings of the visit. Following the recommendation of the Subcommittee on Accreditation of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar remained fully compliant with the Paris Principles, which certify the independence of national human rights institutions. In 2020, the National Human Rights Committee continued to be instrumental in i.e. referring complaints by migrant workers to the relevant bodies and making recommendations to cabinet to strengthen the protection of human rights. Qatar voted against the EU-led resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the UN General Assembly.