Renewed international pressure on Qatar abolish Kafala; and to amend draft laws on media and cyber crime
At the review of Qatar in the 19th session of Universal Periodic Review, UN, member states responded to the country’s report demanding that urgent amends be made to the kafala system, include domestic workers in the labour law, and to ensure freedom of expression.
The main recommendations made by member states include:
- Remove exit permit system and requirement for a ‘NOC’ to change jobs.
- Ensure rights of foreign workers.
- Allow Qatari women (married to non-Qataris) to pass on citizenship to their children.
- Review new draft media law, that is cause for concern and incompatible with freedom of expression.
- Review new draft cyber crime law that also violates freedom of speech.
- Include domestic workers in the labour law.
- Allow freedom of association/unions.
- Facilitate women’s access to justice.
Qatar’s response was from the Assistant to Foreign Minister in Qatar and representatives of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social and Labour Affairs.
- Qatar maintained that most complaints were amicably resolved and others referred to the judiciary. In 2013, 10,000 complaints were received, of which 8000 were resolved ‘amicably’ and 600 referred to the judiciary.
- By law Qatari women (married to non-Qataris) cannot pass on the citizenship to their husbands, but the children can get ‘passport’. Also children born in Qatar of ‘unknown’ parents receive a ‘passport’.
- On formation of unions, we need to take into account the demographic composition. (Over a third of the population are expatriates.)
- With regard to migrant workers, an Inspection Department has been set up. This department hired 200 persons who work in eight regional offices to ensure respect for migrant workers. In 2004, more than 20,000 inspections took place and in 2013, more than 50,000 inspections were made. Many more measures and practices are in effect such as the provision of a dedicated room where workers are accommodated, a hotline for workers to air their grievances as well as a guidebook that has been published for their convenience.
- As for freedom of expression over the internet, Qatar respects and upholds the freedom of media and the use of social media. It clarifies that censorship is exercised only if there are concerns to violation of ethics or other forms of disrespect.
On a question raised by Costa Rica on Qatar’ s stand on homosexuality, the Qatar representatives stressed that the country follows Shariah legislations.
Interestingly, it also mentioned that ‘sexual relations by consent must be respected’ as opposed to ‘forced.’
Labour rights activist and JustHere columnist Aakash Jayaprakash, speaking to Al Jazeera English on the review, took exception to Qatar’s claim of resolving 8000 complaints in 2013. “What does a resolution of a case mean if a group of workers after being unpaid for 15 months have upped and left? And they never got the money.”
Amnesty’s James Lynch said: “We heard a very clear message from a range of states from around the world – that Qatar has to take action to reform its sponsorship system and cancel the exit permit, that domestic workers have to be granted rights under the Labour Law, and that laws which discriminate against women have to end. A number of states also made clear their serious concern about restrictions on freedom of expression, and it was good to hear the release of the prisoner of conscience Mohammad Al Ajami specifically called for. The Qatari delegation set out many laws and procedures in place, but the crucial thing will be how they respond to the various recommendations made during the review session; we urge them to use this opportunity to commit to bold and wide-ranging reforms.”