Later this year, in the second session of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (‘GANHRI’), the Qatar National Human Rights Committee ( ‘QNHRC’) will be assessed for re-accreditation.1 This is an opportunity to reflect on Qatar’s influence on GANHRI and the UN at large, and on the loopholes, poor institutional design, and misaligned incentives that made it possible. It would be particularly problematic if Qatar’s influence on GANHRI were found to be undue and improper, because the international human rights regime is uniquely vulnerable to multiple corruptive influences within the UN system. The troubling influence of other States within the UN system has already been extensively and instructively discussed by others.2
In addition, in our series on corruption and public international law, previous blog posts have explored the difficulties of providing an adequate and useable legal definition of corruption, even though corruption “is the phenomenon of securing impunity or special advantage to circumvent the rules that govern individual and collective conduct.” We have also stressed that “[a]cess to justice and corruption are inversion of each other”3, which is particularly important to consider in light of the role and responsibility that QNHRC and GAHNRI are supposed to assume at the national and international levels for the protection of individuals and groups from human rights violations. In a follow-up exploration of corruption and international law, we noted that:
“the institutions that are entrusted with providing justice against grievances caused by corruption are unfortunately not immune from the scourge itself. Within the spectrum of activities that amount to corruption and have a systemic adverse impact, judicial corruption is by far one of the most injurious towards an entity/individual’s access to justice.”4
The influence that Qatar is exerting within GAHNRI by using and instrumentalizing its NHRC for the sake of political gains is a source of concern in this sense.
This post will proceed in three steps to show how Qatar has made use of its national human rights institute, and to review the evidence to date that suggests that QNHRI is characterized by a lack of independence and failure to reliably defend the cause of human rights, but serves instead as a tool to exert corruptive influence within the international society under the thin guise of human rights.
After intense campaigning and lobbying, in 2015 Qatar secured an “A” rating from GANHRI for its National Human Rights Committee. Yet in discussing the QNHRC’s future re-accreditation, the 2015 Final Report of the International Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights noted major flaws in the functioning and independence of the QNHRC:
“In accordance with the 2015 Law, the NHRC is comprised of no less than seven (7) civil society representatives and four (4) representatives from government ministries. All members are appointed by Emiri decree. The 2015 Law also indicates that the civil society representatives should have experience and interest in human rights. The law is otherwise silent on the process and criteria used to determine the suitability of applicants. In March 2009, the SCA requested the NCHR advocate for changes to its legislation to provide for a transparent, participatory, merit based selection process.
While the NCHR has formed its own a selection committee to nominate candidates for appointment, the SCA notes that its 2009 recommendation has not been addressed. It reiterates its original recommendation that a transparent, participatory, merit-based selection process should be entrenched in the law. […]
It is critically important to ensure the formalization of a clear, transparent and participatory selection and appointment process for an NHRI’s decision-making body in relevant legislation, regulations or binding administrative guidelines, as appropriate. […]
The decree law is silent on a situation where members have an actual or perceived conflict of interest. The avoidance of conflicts of interest protects the reputation, and the real and perceived independence of, an NHRI. Members should be required to disclose conflicts of interest and to avoid participation on decisions where these arise.
The SCA encourages the NHRC to advocate for the inclusion of provisions in its enabling legislation, regulations or binding administrative guidelines that protect against real or perceived conflicts of interest.”5
According to GANHRI, senior figures within the leadership QNHRC are selected in a non-transparent manner, whereas a National Human Rights Institute is meant at the very least to serve the interests and protect the rights of citizens, peoples and other fundamental goods (nature, animals, etc.) against its own State. The Qatari law that established, and regulates the existence and functioning of, the QNHRC also fails to prevent systemic conflicts of interest.
Unsurprisingly, criticisms against the QNHRC have continued unabated since GANHRI’s first accreditation. Civil society organizations asked that the QNHRC is stripped of its “A” Grade.6 During Qatar’s next Universal Periodic Review process, several NGOs jointly pointed out that
“despite having been granted an “A” status by the global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions’ Sub-Committee on Accreditation in 2015, Qatar’s National Human Rights Institution – the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) – was not in full compliance with the Paris Principles and that it was insufficiently independent of the executive. The NHRC was established and reorganized in 2010 Emiri decrees, and the nomination, appointment and dismissal of its members has been subject to approval by the Emir. The NHRC is entirely financed by the state and the executive retains the power to both allocate funds to the institution and decide on its expenses.”7
UPR Recommendations suggested that Qatar “[a]mend Decree-Law 17 of 2010 regarding the establishment of the National Human Rights Committee to ensure that it is in compliance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles)”, and to “[c]ease to instrumentalize the National Human Rights Committee in carrying out activities for political ends”.8
Shortly thereafter, in the context of the International Court of Justice case concerning the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), it was reported during oral arguments that the accredited status of the QNHRC has been used for propagandizing the false allegation that the UAE had violated an order of the International Court of Justice, even before the ICJ actually rendered a decision.9 The Court was also presented with uncontroverted evidence that the QNHRC had submitted multiple fraudulent pieces of evidence to the Court, including statements the QNHRC collected from individuals it has systematically coached and misled, and the QNHRC’s fabrication of the UK Parliament’s endorsement of Qatar’s complaints against the many States that in 2017 chose to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar.10
At this time, GANHRI websites already notified the public that QNHRC would be re-accredited in 2019, and set a deadline for NGOs to comment on its merits in advance. Shortly after the UPR and ICJ criticisms of QNHRC, the re-accreditation dates disappeared, without explanation, from all United Nations websites. Instead of proceeding with the due and already promised re-accreditation of QNHRC, GANHRI elected the Chairman of QNHRC, Dr. Ali bin Shmaikh Al-Marri, as GANHRI’s own Vice-President and Secretary General.11
Despite long-running criticisms of its lack of political independence and recommendations not to instrumentalize its National Human Rights Institute for political propaganda, the QNHRC announced the election of its Chairman to these powerful UN roles this way:
“The National Human Rights Committee won the leadership positions in the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, as a culmination of its achievements and contributions to the defense of human rights issues in Qatar and the region and its international efforts to counter the blockade imposed on Qatar. The National Human Rights Committee won four leadership positions in recognition of its efforts and contributions in defending human rights issues nationally, regionally and internationally. The National Human Rights Committee has become a model for human rights institutions in the region and the world.
It is worth mentioning that The National Human Rights Committee of the State of Qatar is the only country in the GCC to be accredited status A by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions following a rigorous accreditation process under the supervision of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Status (A) is granted only to national institutions that fully complies with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions. (The Paris Principles).
The National Human Rights Committee has again received the confidence of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), which has previously rejected complaints submitted by the blockading countries, to try to withdraw the status A from the NHRC, while questioning its credibility and integrity. The efforts of the National Human Rights Committee to counter the blockade also earned the appreciation of the international community, led by the United Nations, which in its official report valued the efforts of the National Human Rights Committee and confirmed the credibility of its reports on violations by the blockading countries.”12
Qatar then proceeded to launch funded programmes for other GANHRI members and held high-profile, well-funded events in Qatar for them.13
Numerous organizations and individuals have noted and analyzed the worrying trend of States instrumentalizing international human rights solely to advance their foreign policy interests. QNHRC is now up for re-accreditation, two years after GANHRI procedures would normally mandate. QNHRC continues to hold the most influential positions in GANHRI, while the serious criticisms of QNHRC’s independence, present since its first accreditation, continue to multiply. The QNHRC’s re-accreditation is a rare opportunity to ask the vital questions concerning the acceptability of such practices within the UN institutional design, and commonsensical ways to improve the quality of access to justice that the UN must provide to human rights victims and vulnerable groups and individuals.14
1 GANHRI, 2021 Sessions, 2021, at https://ganhri.org/upcoming-sessions/: “Session 2: 18-29 October 2021 (if held virtually) / 18-22 October 2021 (if held in-person)” […] Re-accreditation: Korea, Mongolia, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Qatar, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Zimbabwe.”
2 E.g. Human Rights Watch, “The Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms”, 5 September 2017, at https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/09/05/costs-international-advocacy/chinas-interference-united-nations-human-rights; Human Rights Watch, “China’s Influence on the Global Human Rights System: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World”, 14 September 2020, at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/14/chinas-influence-global-human-rights-system/.
3 Just Access, “Corruption and access to justice in international law, Part 1”, 23 February 2021, at https://just-access.de/corruption-and-access-to-justice-in-international-law-part-1/.
4 Just Access, “Corruption and access to justice in international law, Part 2”, 5 April 2021, at https://just-access.de/corruption-and-access-to-justice-in-international-law-part-2/.
5 International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Report and Recommendations of the Session of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA), Geneva, 16-20 November 2015, at https://ganhri.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/SCA-FINAL-REPORT-NOVEMBER-2015-English.pdf, pp. 37-38.
6 “Qatar: National Human Rights Committee’s subordination to the executive undermines its capacity to publicly and freely address human rights violations”, Alkarama, available at: https://www.alkarama.org/en/articles/qatar-national-human-rights-committees-subordination-executive-undermines-its-capacity.
7 Human Rights Council, Summary of Stakeholders’ submissions on Qatar, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/WG.6/33/QAT/3, distr. gen. on 21 February 2019, p. 4, para. 25.
8 Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Qatar, A/HRC/42/15, distr. gen. on 11 July 2019, A/HRC/42/15, p. 14, paras. 134.62 and 134.63.
9 International Court of Justice, Public sitting held on Thursday 9 May 2019, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, in the case concerning Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), Corrected Verbatim Record, CR 2019/7, p. 34.
10 International Court of Justice, Public sitting held on Thursday 7 May 2019, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, in the case concerning Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), Corrected Verbatim Record, CR 2019/7, pp. 22-25, 46-48, 51.
International Court of Justice, Public sitting held on Thursday 9 May 2019, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, in the case concerning Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), Corrected Verbatim Record, CR 2019/7, pp. 31-34.
11 QNHRC, “The General Assembly of the Global Alliance of National Human rights Institutions selected Dr. Al Marri as the Vice President and Secretary General of the GANHRI: The NHRC officially took up office in the GANHRI, 5 March 2019, at https://nhrc-qa.org/en/the-general-assembly-of-the-global-alliance-of-national-human-rights-institutions-selected-dr-al-marri-as-the-vice-president-and-secretary-general-of-the-ganhri-the-nhrc-officially-took-up-office-in/.
12 Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, The General Assembly of the Global Alliance of National Human rights Institutions selected Dr. Al Marri as the Vice President and Secretary General of the GANHRI: The NHRC officially took up office in the GANHRI”, 5 March 2019, at https://nhrc-qa.org/en/the-general-assembly-of-the-global-alliance-of-national-human-rights-institutions-selected-dr-al-marri-as-the-vice-president-and-secretary-general-of-the-ganhri-the-nhrc-officially-took-up-office-in/.
13 See, for instance, Gulf Times, “GANHRI strives to strenghen rights institutions globally: al-Marri”, 18 June 2019, at https://www2.gulf-times.com/story/634450/GANHRI-strives-to-strengthen-rights-institutions-g.
14 Anne Peters, “Corruption as a Violation of International Human Rights”, European Journal of International Law, 2019, Vol. 29, No. 4, at (open access) https://academic.oup.com/ejil/article/29/4/1251/5320164, pp. 1251-1287, p. 1280. On institutional corruption, see Lawrence Lessig, “Institutional Corruptions”, Edmond J. Safra Lab Working paper No. 1, March 2013, at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2233582.