Human Rights in Qatar: An Overview
Although Qatar had a relatively progressive reputation when compared to other countries in the area when it comes to human rights, preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have drawn attention to Qatar’s dismal treatment of migrant workers. The State of Qatar, headed by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani plays a delicate balancing game.
The law is based on Sharia, but Qatar’s status as a touristic destination and focus on becoming more involved in Western affairs has resulted in an inconsistent enforcement of Sharia, making accommodations for Western presence and increased media attention. Currently, there is concern that migrant workers in Qatar are routinely exploited. Abuse is rampant and forced labor is widespread. Women are also discriminated against and violence against women is not uncommon. Freedom of expression in Qatar is restricted and the courts are often unfair. Although death sentences are passed, official executions have decreased in number in the last couple of years.
The state of democracy in Qatar is currently suspect. According to reports from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, elections for the Shura Council did not occur. This council, which advises the current ruler, will continue in its term until 2016, having skipped the elections in 2013. It is unclear whether elections of a new Shura Council would have been a step in the right direction, however. A similar move to open the Shura Council to women was taken in Saudi Arabia, but it is commonly regarded as a token gesture meant to improve the government’s reputation, but with little substantial results in the way of real democratic reform.
It is important to highlight Qatar’s situation as a country that is accountable to its neighbors and other Gulf states, but at the same time desires a greater participation in the world economy and to become a financial hub and touristic situation. Democratic and human rights progress in Qatar has often been met with friction from more conservative states in the region. One particularly large rift between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council states occurred after Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates retired their ambassadors from the country for almost nearly eight months and did not reinstate them until Qatar withdrew its support. The 2011 Arab Spring has resulted in different ways of dealing with the fear of protests and increased activism in the various countries in the GCC.
Currently, the most severe threat to human rights in Qatar is the treatment of migrant workers in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar is facing increased pressure from FIFA authorities and other governments to do something about migrant abuse and forced labor. This, coupled with abuse of women and restricted freedom of expression indicates that Qatar still has a long way to go before it will meet internationally recognized standards of human rights.