Joint Comments by Maat and Just Access for the Concluding Observations on Qatar’s Initial Report about the implementation of the ICCPR
Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights and Just Access e.V. submit jointly the following comments for the consideration of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in relation to its Concluding Observations concerning Qatar’s Initial Report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Qatar ratified the ICCPR in 2018, but four years later there are still several areas in which the State is systematically infringing the Covenant. These infringements require immediate action by the State authorities, in order to ensure that the ICCPR is implemented effectively and without discrimination. Besides these systemic violations, after examining Qatar’s replies to the List of Issues (LOI) issued by the CCPR in August 2020, we believe that this document contains a number of contradictions and misleading statements, as will be shown below.
Several of these misstatements and systemic violations will be shown through the example of a concrete case, that of Sheikh Talal Al Thani, his wife, and their four children. Following his father’s death, Sheikh Talal requested his inheritance from the Qatari authorities. Sheikh Talal sought a peaceful resolution of this issue by bringing it before the courts of Qatar. This appears to be the event that triggered Qatar’s measures against Sheikh Talal and his family. The Government of Qatar refused to settle the inheritance claim, but offered to pay the inheritance in increments if Sheikh Talal returned to Qatar from having lived abroad. When the Sheikh returned to Qatar with his family, the Government proceeded to freeze and appropriate his assets. Having been deprived of his assets through the actions of the Government and the ruling family of Qatar, Sheikh Talal fell into debt. The Government’s conduct resulted in multiple court proceedings against the Sheikh.
On 21 February 2013, Sheikh Talal was arrested by plain-clothes police at a gas station without a warrant, denying him information regarding the basis of his arrest and detention. Despite his repeated requests for legal representation, to this day he is still denied access to a lawyer of his choosing; and his case has never been reviewed by an independent and impartial tribunal. The proceeding that led to Sheikh Talal’s imprisonment failed to meet the requirements of a fair and public hearing, in general violation of Article 14 of the ICCPR. Among other judgments, in May 2018 Sheikh Talal, already in detention for over five years at that time, received a sentence of 22 years’ imprisonment, running from 21 March 2013 to 30 June 2035. This sentence was subsequently extended for another 15 years, until 2050. Having in mind his age and his deteriorating physical condition, this is a death sentence in all but name.
After his detention, the Sheikh’s pregnant wife and small children were forced to move to a remote location outside Doha, where they lived in squalid conditions, exposed to raw sewage and pests. In consequence, the children fell ill and had to be frequently hospitalised. Eventually the family was allowed to travel abroad. They refused to return and now live in Germany, under police protection. In August 2020, the Qatari Authorities have cut off all communication between Sheikh Talal and his family. Due to the poor prison conditions, Sheikh Talal now suffers from a life-threatening diabetic condition, loss of teeth, hypertension, chronic back and joint pains and very limited mobility. In our organisations’ view, this case exemplifies the structural nature of the violation of a number of ICCPR provisions, as will be explained in more detail below.
These joint comments will focus on (1) the impermissibility of Qatar’s reservations to the ICCPR, (2) the lack of independence of Qatar’s National Committee for Human Rights, (3) the non-participation of civil society organisations in Qatar’s review process, (4) the acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment with respect to persons deprived of their liberty, (5) the systematic imprisonment of individuals merely on the grounds of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation, and (6) the State’s failure to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the procedural safeguards of defendants.
The impermssibility of Qatar’s reservations to the ICCPR
As highlighted in its initial report on the implementation of the ICCPR, Qatar has submitted reservations to Articles 3 (i.e. on its obligation to guarantee the equality between men and women) and 23 (4) of the Covenant (concerning the rights of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution).1 In addition, the State submitted five interpretative declarations, concerning the interpretation of the term “punishment” in article 7 of the Covenant, the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief under Article 18(2) of the ICCPR, the interpretation of the term ,“trade unions” and all related matters mentioned in Article 22 of the Covenant, the marriageable age for men and women (Article 23.2 of the ICCPR), and the rights of religious minorities to profess and practice their own religion under Article 27 of the Covenant. 2 The first four declarations are in practice modifying the extent of the State’s legal obligations with respect to these provisions. Therefore, these four interpretative declarations do in fact also constitute reservations to the ICCPR,3 and their permissibility will be examined together with the other reservations, in accordance with paragraph 3.5.1 of the International Law Commission (ILC) Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties.4
The CCPR inquired in its LOI whether Qatar intended to withdraw these reservations, to which the State replied that “[f]rom time to time, Qatar reviews its reservations to all international human rights treaties. No specific time frame has been established for the consideration of the reservations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.5 This statement shows that currently Qatar has no intention to withdraw the aforementioned reservations.
Therefore, the CCPR should make clear in its Concluding Observations that the reservations to the ICCPR issued by Qatar are invalid. The reasons mentioned by the Government of Qatar for its reservations are that Article 3 ICCPR is contrary to Article 8 of Qatar’s Constitution, and that Article 23(4) of the Covenant “contravenes Islamic sharia”. With respect to the interpretative declarations, the States submits that the effect of Articles 7, 18(2), 22, 23(2) and 27 of the Covenant is also dependent on Islamic sharia or domestic laws.6
In relation to the reservations concerning the equality between men and women, there is currently no doubt that such reservations are incompatible with the object and purpose of a human rights treaty. These reservations are in consequence invalid, in accordance with Article 19 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). The same can also be applied to the reservations that introduce some form of discrimination on the basis of religion. The references to the compatibility with domestic laws made by Qatar in this context are irrelevant, since the VCLT also establishes in its Article 27 that “a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty”.
The reservations made on the basis of Islamic Sharia are also lacking validity under international law. The reference to Islamic Sharia is in this regard formulated in vague and general terms, contrary to paragraph 22.214.171.124 of the ILC Guide on Treaty Reservations.7 In addition, the CCPR has previously stated that “state parties should ensure that traditional, historical, religious or cultural attitudes are not used to justify violations of women’s rights to equality before the law and to equal enjoyment of all Covenant rights”,8 as well as “that the capacity of women to own property, to enter into a contract or to exercise other civil rights may not be restricted on the basis of marital status or any other discriminatory ground”.9
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women already established in its Concluding Observations to Qatar’s initial report that “the reservations to articles 2 and 16 are contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention”.10 Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are substantively very close to Articles 3 and 23(4) of the ICCPR, as both concern the equality of men and women and the rights of spouses in the context of marriage. In our view, there is in consequence no doubt that these reservations to the ICCPR are incompatible with its object and purpose and therefore clearly invalid.
Finally, the reservation on the prohibition of torture affects a right which is absolute and non-derogable under the ICCPR. In accordance with the ILC Guide on Reservations, “a State or an international organization may not formulate a reservation to a treaty provision concerning rights from which no derogation is permissible under any circumstances, unless the reservation in question is compatible with the essential rights and obligations arising out of that treaty”.11 The latter is clearly not the case for Qatar’s reservation, as the definition of “punishment” is a central element to Article 7 of the Covenant. The Committee against Torture also urged Qatar to withdraw a reservation along the same lines in its Concluding Observation to the State’s third periodic report.12
In sum, the two reservations and the first four declarations issued by Qatar with respect to the ICCPR should be declared impermissible and invalid by the CCPR.
The lack of independence of the Qatari National Committee for Human Rights
In the LOI, the CCPR requested Qatar to “describe the measures adopted to ensure the independence and effectiveness of the National Human Rights Committee”.13 In its Replies, Qatar argues that “Act No. 12 of 2015 amending certain provisions of Decree-Law No. 17 of 2010 governing the National Committee for Human Rights grants the Committee greater independence and provides immunity and legal safeguards for it and its members”.14 However, there were and still remain serious legal concerns regarding Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee’s (QNHRC) operations and independence. The QNHRC has violated multiple Paris Principles. Therefore, we believe that the lack of independence and impartiality should be highlighted in the Concluding Observations of the CCPR.
First, the QNHRC enabling law does not allow the institution to function effectively and independently. QHRC’s enabling law is Decree Law No. (17) of 2010 On the organization of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC).15 It is vital to note that this is not a parliamentary law but an executive decree, adopted exclusively by the Emir of Qatar, as stated clearly in its Preamble. This is a direct violation of the Paris Principles and of the General Observation No. 1.1 of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions’ (GANHRI) Sub-Committee on Accreditation, according to which “the establishment of an NHRI by other means, such as an instrument of the Executive, does not provide sufficient protection to ensure permanency and independence”.16
In addition, Decree Law No. (17) of 2010 falls short of meeting the Paris Principles by failing to address and regulate several fundamental issues, such as the funding of the QNHRC, its lines of accountability, or even the appointment mechanism for its members. Concerning funding, Decree Law No. (17) merely mentions that “the financial resources of the NHRC shall include appropriations allocated by the State [and] subsidies, donations, grants, and bequests made to it from national bodies”.17 This provision lacks specificity and certainty with respect to the allocation of resources, as the executive retains the full power to both allocate funds to the institution and decide on its expenses. With regard to the election of members, the law states only that they “shall be appointed by an Emiri Decree”, and lists broad and vague conditions that members shall meet.18 The decree lacks any detail concerning the methods for applying to this position, as well as the process and criteria used to determine the suitability of applicants. The decree is also silent on the lines of accountability for QNHRC members, and for the institution as a whole.
Secondly, the selection and appointment process for members of the QNHRC’s decision-making body is neither clear, nor transparent or participatory. The QNHRC includes five Government representatives among its 14 members, not as a deviation but in accordance with Article 5 of the enabling decree law. Even if these members do not have a right to vote, the institution is not independent from the executive in its composition, decision-making and method of operation, as mandated by the Paris Principles. Moreover, with respect to the governing body of QNHRC, the current Chairman and Vice-Chairman are respectively Mr. Ali bin Samikh Al Marri and Dr. Mohammed bin Saif Al Kuwari.19 The former used to work in the Qatar Ministry of Education,20 and Dr. Al Kuwari is still the Director of the Municipal and Environmental Studies Center of the Qatar Ministry of Municipality and Environment.21 Therefore, the governing body of QNHRC is clearly and directly linked to the Government, which affects both its perceived and its actual independence. This directly violates Paris Principle B.2, which states that the requirement of an appropriate infrastructure is intended to ensure the NHRI is “independent of the government”.
Another problematic issue concerning the composition of the QNHRC relates to the guarantee of tenure for its members. Paris Principle B.3 requires that members of an NHRI are appointed officially, thereby promoting a stable mandate “without which there can be no real independence”. However, there is no provision regulating the tenure of QNHRC mandates and the Emir still holds a wide discretion concerning the termination of members. According to Article 10 of the 2010 enabling decree law, termination of a member of the QNHRC is effected by an Emiri Decree upon a proposal of the QNHRC for reasons which include performing “an act contrary to the objectives of the NHRC or that would disrupt the performance of its duties and terms of reference” and “a disability which may prevent the member from performing the duties of his membership”. These reasons for the termination of the tenure of QNHRC members are clearly too vague and general to meet the Paris Principles.
The QNHRC’s lack of independence was also highlighted in Qatar’s last Universal Periodic Review. Indeed, the UPR outcome document included recommendations to “[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”.22 We believe that it would be appropriate to include a statement along these lines also in the Concluding Observations of the CCPR.
Participation of civil society organizations in Qatar’s review process
In relation to the participation of civil society organisations in this treaty review process, the CCPR asked Qatar to provide information of their “degree of participation in the process of formulating the State party’s initial report to the Committee”.23 Qatar replied to this that the initial report was sent before its adoption to the Qatar Foundation for Social Action and to the National Committee for Human Rights in order for these organisations to express their views thereon.24 However, neither the Qatar Foundation for Social Action nor the National Committee for Human Rights are civil society organisations, but rather quasi-governmental institutions.
The lack of independence and close links to Qatari Government of its National Committee for Human Rights were already shown in the previous section. It becomes clear that this Committee does not qualify as a civil society organisation. The situation of the Qatar Foundation for Social Action is similar. Qatar Foundation for Social Action (or Social Work) was established in 2013 by Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, the second wife of the then-emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and mother of the current Emir of Qatar.25 This foundation is financed through governmental funds, and it represents the interests of the Government of Qatar.
The Qatar Foundation for Social Action is therefore also not a civil society organisation but a governmental institution. This is even unintentionally recognised by Qatar in its reply to the LOI, when commenting on the equality between men and women. There, the State mentions that “[t]he position of Minister of Public Health is currently occupied by a woman and Qatari
women head a number of important national institutions including (…) the Qatar
Foundation for Social Action”.26 This statement clearly shows that Qatar does not see the Foundation for Social Action as a civil society organisation but as a national institution.
In sum, the two civil society organisations that, according to Qatar, have participated in the adoption of the State’s initial report to the ICCPR are in fact governmental institutions. Thus, there has been in practice no participation at all by civil society organisations in the initial stage of Qatar’s process of review. The CCPR should therefore consider to request Qatar in its Concluding Observations to allow for the participation of independent civil society organisations in the review process of international human rights treaty bodies.
Prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment and the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty
With respect to the prohibition of torture, the CCPR requested Qatar in the LOI to “provide disaggregated information about the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for such acts that have been secured since the State party’s accession to the Covenant, including the penalties imposed and the compensation and psychosocial support provided to victims”.27 According to Qatar’s reply, the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for acts of torture is zero. Actually, the Qatari Government argued that “it has received no complaints of torture or ill-treatment and detected no cases of either. Nor has it received any complaints of abuse of power by police officers assigned to the Ministry that involves acts meeting the definition of torture.28
This statement by Qatar is not correct. The case of Sheikh Talal serves as an example in this regard, as he has been detained for almost nine years under conditions that amount to torture and ill-treatment, including solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, threats and intimidation, denial of vital medical care and other forms of physical and mental suffering. These circumstances have been denounced before the Qatari Authorities and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, among others.
Specifically, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, together with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD) and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, sent a Joint Letter of Allegations to Qatar on 19 October 2020 concerning the case of Sheikh Talal (AL QAT 2/2020). The Government of Qatar replied on 15 January 2021. In its reply, the Government ignored the three Special Mandates’ request for information concerning Sheikh Talal’s whereabouts and health condition in incommunicado detention, where he is denied access to his family, a lawyer of his own choosing, and independent medical care. Instead, the Government informed the Special Mandates that it had extended Sheikh Talal’s sentence of imprisonment until December 2050, on charges that his family and legal representatives have not been informed of and which are highly improbable in the first place, as during his detention Sheikh Talal would not have been able to commit the crimes of which the Government freshly accused him. Thus, the argument in Qatar’s reply to the CCPR’s LOI that the State has had no knowledge of complaints related to torture and ill-treatment is an evident misstatement, as the Government even replied to such a complaint raised before international bodies.
Moreover, the use of torture in Qatari detention centres has also been highlighted by the UN Committee against Torture in its Concluding Observations on Qatar’s third periodic report. There, it urged the Qatari Authorities to adopt several measures in this regard. Among other issues, the Committee emphasised that Qatar “should take effective measures to ensure that all detainees are afforded, in law and in practice, all fundamental safeguards from the very outset of their deprivation of liberty, in conformity with international standards”.29 The Committee against Torture specified that detainees should be informed about the charges against them and be permitted to have contact with family members, lawyers and independent medical professionals.30 Additionally, the Committee against Torture referred to the lack of independence of the judiciary and the practice in Qatari detention facilities of obtaining confessions under torture or ill-treatment for use in court.31 Other non-governmental organisations, such as Amnesty International, have also found that in Qatar “[t]here are not adequate systems in place, in practice, to ensure prompt, independent investigation of allegations of torture or ill-treatment and adequate remedy or redress for victims”.32
In sum, it becomes clear that the Government of Qatar is trying to mislead the CCPR in its Replies to the LOI, by stating that it has no knowledge of alleged acts of torture in its prisons. We believe that the Concluding Observations should focus, among others, on the prohibition and prevention of torture and ill-treatment in the Qatari detention centers.
The imprisonment merely on the grounds of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation
Another issue which was highlighted by the CCPR in its LOI is the imprisonment of an important number of individuals merely on the grounds of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation, in violation of Article 11 of the Covenant. In this regard the CCPR asked Qatar to “respond to reports that a large number of individuals, who are often foreign nationals, are held in detention owing to their inability to repay a debt following violations of articles 357 and 358 of the Criminal Code, under which it is a criminal offence to write a cheque without sufficient funds. Please provide disaggregated data on the number of individuals held on such a basis and indicate whether there have been efforts to reform such practices”.33 Qatar replied that a total number of 347 individuals are currently in detention for non-payment of debts.34 The State did not indicate any intention to reform such practices. This shows that the State has been and is still violating Article 11 of the ICCPR on a structural basis and does not intend to put an end to it.
With respect to the same issue, the Government of Qatar also argued that 200 individuals convicted for the non-payment of debts had been released as part of precautionary and
preventive measures related to COVID-19.35 A similar statement was also included when indicating the COVID-19 related measures, with the State mentioning that “the Emir has issued amnesties for a number of prisoners in the light of the health and humanitarian conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic”.36 These statements are also misleading, as it can be observed in the case of Sheikh Talal. The Sheikh was indeed released on health grounds on the basis of a “medical committee’s report dated 08 June 2020”, as stated by Qatar in its reply to the aforementioned Joint Letter of Allegations. However, the Sheikh was brought back to prison on 9 August 2020. This has also been confirmed by the State in the same reply. Thus, it can be observed that the fact that amnesties were issued by the Emir and that individuals detained for failing to fulfil a contractual obligation have been released does not mean that they remained out of prison. Actually, in some cases (such as the one of Sheikh Talal), these alleged “amnesties” lasted only for two months. This is therefore another misstatement by the Government of Qatar.
We believe it is of utmost importance that the CCPR reminds Qatar of its obligations with respect to Article 11 of the Covenant, which the State is systematically infringing. In addition, the release of the individuals imprisoned for their alleged inability to repay a debt should be requested.
The independence of the judiciary and the procedural safeguards of defendants
Another important aspect in this context concerns the independence of the judiciary and the due process rights of the accused individuals in Qatar. In the LOI, the CCPR requested Qatar to “elaborate on the steps taken to ensure judicial impartiality and independence, and the autonomy of prosecutors” as well as to “respond to reports of individuals being denied the procedural safeguards of a fair trial, contrary to article 14 of the Covenant”.37 The case of Sheikh Talal was actually included among such reports.38 On the latter issue, the State replied that its domestic laws “offer full guarantees of a fair hearing, including the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; safeguards for accused persons; enabling the access of accused persons to the competent court; completion of proceedings within a reasonable period; access to and exercise of the right of defence; the enforcement of judicial decisions; the right of equality before the law and the courts; the right of accused persons not to be subjected to physical or mental duress or to any form of torture or cruel or degrading treatment; the presumption of innocence; a hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal offering the guarantees required to exercise the right of defence; the right to a public hearing; the right of accused persons to call witnesses; and the right to appeal and to appeal in cassation”.39 In addition, the Government states that “[w]hen accused persons are brought before prosecutors they are asked if they have a lawyer and if they wish their lawyer to be present”.40
Notwithstanding what the Qatari laws may establish in this respect, this is not what occurs in practice, as can be seen again through the example of Sheikh Talal’s case. Over the past years of litigation before Qatari courts, Sheikh Talal has experienced how hearings before Qatari judges were kept extraordinarily short, with the conviction and sentence appearing to have been predetermined by the judges. In some instances, judgments were handed down against the Sheikh without a proper attempt to summon him to attend the hearing. Since his detention, Sheikh Talal has not been informed of his rights. While being detained incommunicado, Sheikh Talal has been unable to communicate with a lawyer of his own choosing despite his repeated requests to this effect, in violation of Article 14(3)(b) of the ICCPR. He was not provided his right to a fair hearing and was not afforded the presumption of innocence. Indeed, before his case was decided upon by Qatari courts of justice, Qatari Authorities sought to try Sheikh Talal in the court of public opinion using footage of false confessions they attempted to extract from him in prison. The conduct of the trials by the Qatari Authorities was therefore manifestly arbitrary and amounted to a denial of justice, in violation of Article 14 of the Covenant.
The violations of Sheikh Talal’s fair trial and due process rights are convergent with the WGAD’s observations during its most recent visit to Qatar. In its Preliminary Findings Report, the WGAD notes that many of the detainees it interviewed had described their hearings before the court as being of summary nature, lasting only a few minutes. Some detainees described their proceedings as “a mere formality”, because the conviction and sentence had already been determined by the Qatari court judges. According to testimonies received by the WGAD, defendants were generally not permitted to address the court, even in cases involving serious offences for which the maximum penalty was a lengthy term of imprisonment; they were not allowed to present evidence, either.41
In addition, since Mrs. Asma Arian, Sheikh Talal’s wife, has been authorised by her husband to pursue court proceedings and appoint a lawyer on his behalf, both the appointed lawyer and she have been denied access to many of the documents concerning the lawsuits brought against the Sheikh. Indeed, as a result of its last visit to Qatar, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers expressed concern “to hear about the difficulties that lawyers [in Qatar] have had in discharging their professional functions, in particular regarding access to information, including expert reports and other essential documents, and the case file of their client during both investigation and trial phases”.42
Besides the Qatari State’s systemic failure to comply with the procedural safeguards of defendants, the lack of independence of Qatar’s judiciary is also manifest, as has been highlighted by several UN bodies. When the Emir of Qatar deems it necessary for the “public interest”, he can dismiss Qatari judges,43 as well as prosecutors.44 In her 2015 report on Qatar, the then Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, noted numerous cases of pressure by the Qatari executive on the judiciary, particularly in cases that concern potential political rivals of the Emir. The Special Rapporteur also reported allegations that the public prosecution is directly involved in fabricating charges and in tampering with evidence;45 and noted that “[a]ll judges, including non-Qataris, are appointed by the Emir upon proposition of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (as way of exception the president of the Court of Cassation is directly appointed by the Emir).46 The Special Rapporteur was also troubled by Article 63, paragraph 5, of Law No. 10 of 2003, according to which the Emir has competence to dismiss judges “in the public interest”. In her view, such ground for dismissal is vague and does not comply with international standards regarding disciplinary measures against judges.47
Moreover, the Committee against Torture called recently upon Qatar to “adopt all measures necessary to establish and ensure the independence of the judiciary, including by guaranteeing their tenure in office and severing administrative and other ties with the executive branch”.48 The 2019 Freedom in the World report, issued by Freedom House, also finds that Qatar’s Emir continues to exert control over the judiciary.49 None of these issues has been contested by Qatar in it reply to the LOI. The state has instead responded to the CCPR’s request for information with broad statements that do not indicate how the judges are appointed or dismissed.50 In sum, this shows that Articles 9 and 14 of the Covenant are also being systematically infringed by Qatar. The CCPR should therefore request an amendment of the State’s domestic laws in order to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, as well as a reform of its judicial practice aiming to ensure the defendants due process rights in this context.
As it has been shown along these Joint Comments for the Concluding Observations on Qatar’s Initial Report regarding the implementation of the ICCPR, the State’s reply to the CCPR’s LOI contains a number of contradictions and misleading statements. These concern, among others, the independence of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, the genuine as opposed to pretended participation of civil society in the elaboration of the initial report, the release of prisoners after the COVID-19 outbreak and the independence of the judiciary. Although this joint submission by Maat and Just Access has focused only on some particular issues, these are far from exhausting the contradictions and misstatements in Qatar’s reply to the LOI.
For example, the State argues that it has “abolished exit permits and has recognized the right of migrant workers to depart the country freely. This means that the kafalah system has been dismantled and abolished once and for all”.51 A few paragraphs later, Qatar specifies in this regard that a Decree of 2019 removes the need for workers in certain areas to acquire authorisation before leaving the country.52 However, this decree does not comprise all categories of workers. Notably, construction workers are not included. In addition, even for the categories of workers under the scope of this decree, “employers can
submit a motivated prior request to the Ministry of the Interior containing the names of
persons who, due to the nature of their work, require prior approval before departing the
country”.53 Therefore, it seems that Qatar has introduced certain exceptions and requirements to the application of the kafalah system, which is a positive development, but it is still a far cry from the Government’s statement, according to which this system “has been dismantled and abolished once and for all”.
Besides such misleading statements, the comments have shown how several provisions of the ICCPR that are being systematically infringed by that State. This applies among others for Articles 07, 09, 11 and 14 of the Covenant. Finally, the impermissibility of Qatar’s reservations and declarations to the Covenant has also been highlighted. Just Access and Maat respectfully ask the CCPR to mention in its Concluding Observations to Qatar’s Initial Report that these reservations are invalid, that the State should allow for the participation of civil society organisations in the procedures of human rights treaty review, that it should ensure that torture and ill-treatment immediately cease in the State’s detention centers, that the Qatari Government should release all individuals placed in detention merely due to their alleged inability to fulfil a contractual obligation, and that Qatar should take appropriate steps to guarantee the independence of the judiciary as well as the application of procedural safeguards for defendants, not only in law, but also in practice.
1 CCPR, Initial report submitted by Qatar under article 40 of the Convention (CCPR/C/QAT/1), 15 October 2019, paragraph 3.
2 CCPR, Initial report submitted by Qatar under article 40 of the Convention (CCPR/C/QAT/1), 15 October 2019, paragraph 3.
3 This is in accordance with Article 2(1)(d) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT): “reservation” means a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, whereby it purports to exclude or to modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State”).
4 ILC, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, 2011, adopted by the International Law Commission at its sixty-third session, in 2011, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission’s report covering work of that session (A/66/10, para. 75), para. 3.5
5 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 9.
6 CCPR, Initial report submitted by Qatar under article 40 of the Convention (CCPR/C/QAT/1), 15 October 2019, paragraph 3.
7 ILC, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, 2011, adopted by the International Law Commission at its sixty-third session, in 2011, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission’s report covering work of that session (A/66/10, para. 75), para. 126.96.36.199 (“A reservation shall be worded in such a way as to allow its meaning to be understood, in order to assess in particular its compatibility with the object and purpose of the treaty”).
8 CCPR, General Comment No. 28 (2000) on the equality of rights between men and women, para. 5.
9 CCPR, General Comment No. 28 (2000) on the equality of rights between men and women, para. 19.
10 CEDAW Committee, Concluding observations on the initial report of Qatar (CEDAW/C/QAT/CO/1), 10 March 2014, paragraph 7.
11 ILC, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, 2011, adopted by the International Law Commission at its sixty-third session, in 2011, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission’s report covering work of that session (A/66/10, para. 75), para. 188.8.131.52.
12 CAT, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/CO/3), 4 June 2018, paragraph 8 (b).
13 CCPR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/Q/1), 24 August 2020, paragraph 2.
14 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph, 10.
16 General Observations of GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation, adopted by the GANHRI Bureau at its Meeting held in Geneva on 21 February 2018, General Observation No. 1.1.
17 Decree Law No. (17) of 2010 On the organization of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), Art. 17.
18 Decree Law No. (17) of 2010 On the organization of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), Art. 6.
22 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.
23 CCPR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/Q/1), 24 August 2020, paragraph 3.
24 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 13.
26 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 27 (emphasis added).
27 CCPR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/Q/1), 24 August 2020, paragraph 14.
28 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 80.
29 Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/CO/3), 4 June 2018, paragraph 14.
30 Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/CO/3), 4 June 2018, paragraph 16 a) and b).
31 7 Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/CO/3), 4 June 2018, paragraphs 18 and 20, respectively.
33 CCPR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/Q/1), 24 August 2020, paragraph 16.
34 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 83.
35 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 83
36 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 17.
37 CCPR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/Q/1), 24 August 2020, paragraph 21.
38 See Maat’s submission to the Human Rights Committee list of issues on the review of Qatar, submitted to the CCPR by Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights on the 30 April 2020.
39 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 94.
40 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 101.
41 Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Preliminary Findings from its visit to Qatar (3 – 14 November 2019)”, WGAD official website, 14 November 2019, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25296&LangID=E.
42 See, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Gabriela Knaul – Mission to Qatar, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/29/26/Add.1, 31 March 2015, paragraph 82, available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/29/26/Add.1.
43 See, Article 63(5) of Law No. 10 of 2003, available at: http://www.almeezan.qa/LawArticles.aspx?LawArticleID=55770&LawID=4052&language=en.
44 See, Article 44(5) of Law No. 10 of 2002, available at: http://www.almeezan.qa/LawArticles.aspx?LawArticleID=372&LawId=11&language=en.
45 See, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Gabriela Knaul – Mission to Qatar, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/29/26/Add.1, 31 March 2015, paragraph 77, available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/29/26/Add.1.
46 6 See, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Gabriela Knaul – Mission to Qatar, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/29/26/Add.1, 31 March 2015, paragraph 39, available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/29/26/Add.1.
47 See, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Gabriela Knaul – Mission to Qatar, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/29/26/Add.1, 31 March 2015, paragraph 42, available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/29/26/Add.1.
48 See, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Qatar, Committee against Torture, CAT/C/QAT/CO/3, 4 June 2018, paragraphs 19-20.
49 See, “Freedom in the World 2019 – Democracy in Retreat”, Freedom House, available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/qatar.
50 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraphs 95-100.
51 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 54.
52 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 60.
53 CCPR, Replies of Qatar to the List of Issues in Relation to its Initial Report (CCPR/C/QAT/RQ/1), 08 April 2021, paragraph 61.