Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 Qatar
Qatar, an Arab state on the Persian Gulf, is a monarchy without
democratically elected institutions or political parties. It is
governed by the ruling Al-Thani family through its head, the Amir.
The current Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, took power
from his father in June 1995 with the support of leading branches
of the Al-Thani family, and in consultation with other leading
Qatari families. This transition of authority did not represent
a change in the basic governing order. The Amir holds absolute
power, the exercise of which is influenced by religious law, consultation
with leading citizens, rule by consensus, and the right of any
citizen to gain access to the Amir to appeal government decisions.
The Amir generally legislates after consultation with leading
citizens, an arrangement institutionalized in an appointed advisory
council that assists the Amir in formulating policy. The judiciary
is nominally independent, but most judges hold their positions
at the Government's pleasure.
The country has efficient police and security services. The civilian
security force, controlled by the Interior Ministry, comprises
two sections: The police and the General Administration of Public
Security, and the Investigatory Police (Mubahathat), which is
responsible for sedition and espionage cases. The Interior Ministry
has a special state security investigative unit (Mubahith) that
performs internal security investigations and gathers intelligence.
In addition, there is an independent civilian intelligence service
The State owns most basic industries and services, but the retail
and construction industries are in private hands. Oil is the principal
natural resource, but the country's extensive natural gas resources
are playing an increasingly important role. The rapid development
of the 1970's and 1980's created an economy in which foreign workers,
mostly South Asian and Arab, outnumber citizens by a ratio of
4 or 5 to 1. The Government tries to reduce this ratio by offering
many government jobs only to citizens.
The Government restricts citizens' rights; however, there was
some progress in a few areas. Citizens do not have the right to
change their government, but in February, July, and October the
Amir issued decrees that paved the way for the establishment of
a democratically elected council with powers over the local government
throughout the country. Elections to the council are scheduled
for March 1999. In a significant development, the Government issued
a decree that granted the right to vote and run for office on
the council to all adult citizens, both male and female. Arbitrary
detention in security cases, and restrictions on the freedoms
of speech, press, association, religion, and on workers' rights,
continued to be problems. However, the Government continued to
take unpublicized steps to ease restrictions on the practice of
non-Muslim religions. Despite the decree that opened the vote
to women, in practice women's rights are restricted by social
customs. Noncitizen workers, who make up a majority of the residents
of the country, face systematic discrimination in the workplace.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
There have been no reported instances of torture for several years.
The Government administers most corporal punishment prescribed
by Islamic law but does not allow amputation.
Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards.
The Government does not permit domestic human rights groups to
exist, and no international human rights organization has asked
to visit the country or its prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The authorities generally charge suspects within 48 hours. In
most cases involving foreigners, the police promptly notify the
appropriate consular representatives. Suspects detained in security
cases generally are not afforded access to counsel and may be
detained indefinitely while under investigation. There are no
known recent cases of incommunicado detention.
In June the Amir ordered the arrest of Ministry of Education official
Abdulrahman Al-Nuaimi, who distributed to the press a letter criticizing
the Amir's decision to allow women to vote and run for office
in the municipal elections (see Section 3), as well as other purportedly
anti-Islamic actions. He was detained for 10 days and released.
The public trial of persons arrested for involvement in the February
1996 coup attempt continued, with no significant developments
during the year. Several noncitizen suspects were released and
Involuntary exile has occurred but is rare. There were no reported
cases this year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is nominally independent, but most judges are foreign
nationals who hold residence permits granted by the civil authorities,
and thus hold their positions at the Government's pleasure. The
number of citizen judges is increasing.
The judiciary deals with the bureaucracies of two ministries.
Civil (or Adlea) courts are subordinate to the Ministry of Justice,
and Shari'a (Islamic law) courts fall under the Ministry of Endowments
and Islamic Affairs. The prosecutors fall under the Ministry of
There are three types of courts: The civil courts, which have
jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters; the Shari'a Court,
which has jurisdiction in family and criminal cases; and the rarely
convened state security courts. There are no permanent state security
courts. Security cases, which are rare, are tried by ad hoc military
courts. Although state security cases may be conducted in secret,
there have been no cases before these courts since the Amir assumed
power. Defendants tried by all courts have the right to appeal.
Occasionally in the Shari'a Court, the same judge will hear the
original case and the appeal.
The legal system is biased in favor of citizens and the Government.
A Muslim litigant may request the Shari'a Court to assume jurisdiction
in commercial or civil cases. Non-Muslims are not allowed to bring
suits as plaintiffs in the Shari'a Court. This practice prevents
non-Muslim residents from obtaining full legal recourse. Trials
in the civil courts are public, but in the Shari'a Court only
the disputing parties, their relatives, associates, and witnesses
are allowed in the courtroom. Lawyers do not play a formal role
except to prepare litigants for their cases. Although non-Arabic
speakers are provided with interpreters, foreigners are disadvantaged,
especially in cases involving the performance of contracts.
Defendants appear before a judge for a preliminary hearing within
7 days of their arrest. Judges may extend pretrial detention for
a week at a time to allow the authorities to conduct investigations.
Defendants in the civil courts have the right to be represented
by defense attorneys but are not always permitted to be represented
by counsel in the Shari'a court.
Shari'a trials are usually brief. Shari'a family law trials are
often held without counsel. After both parties have stated their
cases and examined witnesses, judges are likely to deliver a verdict
after a short deliberation. Criminal cases are normally tried
within 2 to 3 months after suspects are detained. There is no
provision for bail in criminal cases. However, foreigners charged
with minor crimes may be released to a citizen sponsor. They are
prohibited from departing the country until the case is resolved.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Traditional attitudes of respect for the sanctity of the home
and the privacy of women provide a great deal of protection against
arbitrary intrusions for most citizens and residents. A warrant
must be obtained before police may search a residence or business,
except in cases involving national security or emergencies. However,
warrants are issued by police officials rather than by judicial
authorities. There were no reports of unauthorized searches of
homes during the year. The police and security forces are believed
to monitor the communications of suspected criminals, of those
considered to be security risks, and of selected foreigners.
With prior permission, which is usually granted, citizens may
marry foreigners of any nationality and apply for residence permits
or citizenship for their spouses.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although the Government reduced restrictions on freedom of speech
and of the press in 1997, and permitted a significant expansion
of press freedom, some restrictions still remain. The Government
formally lifted censorship of the media in 1995, and since then
the press has been essentially free of government interference.
However, journalists continue to practice self-censorship, due
to real or perceived social and political pressures. For example,
no instance of explicit criticism of any citizen, whether in public
or private life, has been noted in local newspapers. Television
and radio are state-owned, but the privately-owned satellite television
channel Al-Jazeera operates freely.
There were no reports of instances of political censorship of
foreign news media or broadcasts of foreign programs on local
television over the past year. The Censorship Office in the Ministry
of Information was abolished (together with the Ministry) in 1996,
but censors still work at broadcast media under the overall supervision
of the Ministry of Religious Endowments. Pornography and expressions
deemed hostile to Islam are subject to censorship, but in practice
censorship is applied irregularly.
In June the Amir ordered the arrest of an official who wrote a
letter criticizing several of the Amir's decisions as anti-Islamic
(see Section 1.d.).
Customs officials screen imported print media, videocassettes,
and other such items for pornography, but have stopped blocking
the importation of non-Muslim religious items.
A growing number of citizens and residents have access to the
Internet, which is provided through the state-owned telecommunications
monopoly. Internet access appears to be uncensored and unrestricted.
Citizens enjoy broad freedom of speech, but are restricted by
the social and family restraints of a very traditional society.
There is no apparent fear of government monitoring of private
speech. However, the larger foreign population does not believe
it enjoys the same freedoms and acts accordingly.
There is no legal provision for academic freedom. Most instructors
at the University of Qatar exercise self-censorship.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government severely limits freedom of assembly. The Government
does not allow political demonstrations.
The Government severely limits freedom of association. The Government
does not allow political parties or membership in international
professional organizations critical of the Government or of any
other Arab government. Private social, sports, trade, professional,
and cultural societies must be registered with the Government.
Security forces monitor the activities of such groups.
c. Freedom of Religion
The state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the puritanical
Wahhabi branch of the Sunni tradition. The Government officially
prohibits public worship by non-Muslims; however, it tolerates
and protects private services conducted behind closed doors with
prior notification to the authorities. The police provide traffic
control for authorized Catholic services, which may be attended
by up to 1,000 or more persons at times. The Government recently
began to issue visas to Christian clergy under foreign embassy
sponsorship. There are no restrictions on non-Muslims providing
religious instruction to their children. However, non-Muslims
may not proselytize and conversion from Islam is theoretically
a capital offense. However, there is no record of an execution
for such a conversion since independence.
The Government allows Shi'a Muslims to practice their faith freely;
however, community leaders have agreed to refrain from certain
public practices such as self-flagellation.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
There are no restrictions on internal travel, except around sensitive
military and oil installations. In general, women do not require
permission from male guardians to travel. However, men may prevent
female relatives from leaving the country by providing their names
to immigration officers at ports of departure. Technically, women
employed by the Government must obtain official permission to
travel abroad when requesting leave, but it is not known to what
extent this regulation is enforced. Citizens critical of the Government
face restrictions on their right to travel abroad.
All citizens have the right to return. Foreigners are subject
to immigration restrictions designed to control the size of the
local labor pool. Foreign workers must have the permission of
their sponsor (usually their employer) to enter and depart the
country, but their dependents may leave the country without restriction.
Foreign women married to citizens are granted residence permits
and may apply for citizenship; however, they are expected to relinquish
their foreign citizenship.
The Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees,
asylees, or first asylum. Those attempting to enter illegally,
including persons seeking asylum from nearby countries, are refused
entry. Asylum seekers who can obtain local sponsorship or employment
are allowed to enter and may remain as long as they are employed.
A Bahraini Air Force pilot defected to Qatar in 1996, and the
Government stated that he was free to stay, calling him a refugee
and offering him its full protection.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens do not have the right to change their government or the
political system peacefully. Qatar has no formal democratic institutions.
The political institutions blend the characteristics of a traditional
Bedouin tribal state and a modern bureaucracy. There are no political
parties, elections, or organized opposition groups.
The Amir exercises most executive and legislative powers, including
appointment of cabinet members. In July the Amir issued legislation
to establish a democratically elected municipal council with representatives
from the entire country. All citizens over the age of 18, both
male and female, are to have the right to vote and to run as candidates
for the council. Elections are scheduled for February 1999. Although
the council's powers are to be limited largely to local government
issues, the council is expected to debate national issues and
issue independent advice to the Amir.
Under the amended Provisional Constitution, the Amir must be chosen
from and by the adult males of the Al-Thani family.
Women do not have the right to vote or participate in politics.
However, in July the Amir issued legislation to give women the
right to vote and to run for election to the proposed municipal
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not permit local human rights organizations
to exist. No international human rights organizations are known
to have asked to investigate conditions in the country. However,
Amnesty International and foreign embassies were invited to send
observers to sessions of the public trial of those accused in
the 1996 coup attempt. Foreign observers attended the sessions
of the trial held during the year.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
Institutional, cultural, and legal discrimination based on gender,
race, religion, social status, and disability exists.
Violence against women and spousal abuse occur but are not believed
to be widespread. However, some foreign domestics, especially
those from South Asia and the Philippines, have been mistreated
by employers. In keeping with Islamic law, all forms of physical
abuse are illegal. The maximum penalty for rape is death. The
police actively investigate reports of violence against women.
In the last few years, the Government has demonstrated an increased
willingness to arrest and punish offenders, whether citizens or
foreigners. Offenders who are citizens usually receive lighter
punishments than foreigners. Abused domestic workers usually do
not press charges for fear of losing their jobs.
The activities of women are restricted closely both by law and
tradition. For example, a woman is prohibited from applying for
a driver's license unless she has permission from a male guardian.
This restriction does not apply to noncitizen women. The Government
adheres to Shari'a law in matters of inheritance and child custody.
While Muslim wives have the right to inherit from their husbands,
non-Muslim wives do not, unless a special exception is arranged.
In cases of divorce, Shari'a (Islamic law) prevails; younger children
remain with the mother and older children with the father. Both
parents retain permanent rights of visitation. However, local
authorities do not allow a noncitizen parent to take the children
out of the country without permission of the citizen parent. Women
may attend court proceedings but are generally represented by
a male relative. There has been a steady increase in the number
and severity of complaints of spousal abuse by the foreign wives
of local and foreign men.
Women are largely relegated to the roles of mother and homemaker,
but some women are now finding jobs in education, medicine, and
the news media. The number of professional women is too small
to determine whether they are receiving equal pay for equal work.
Increasingly, women are receiving government scholarships to pursue
degrees at universities overseas. The Amir has entrusted his second
wife, who is the mother of the Heir Apparent, with the high-profile
task of establishing a university in Doha. In 1996, the Government
appointed its first female undersecretary, in the Ministry of
Education. Although women are legally able to travel abroad alone
(see Section 2.d.), tradition and social pressures cause most
to travel with male escorts. There also have been complaints that
Qatari husbands take their foreign spouses' passports and, without
prior approval, turn them in for Qatari documents. The husbands
then inform their wives that the wives have lost their former
citizenship. In other cases, foreign wives report being forbidden
by their husbands or in-laws to visit or to contact foreign embassies.
There is no independent women's rights organization, nor has the
Government permitted the establishment of one.
The Government demonstrates its commitment to children's rights
through a well-funded, free public education system (elementary
through university) and a complete medical protection program
for Qatari children. However, children of most foreigners are
denied free education and have only limited medical coverage.
There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.
People with Disabilities
The Government has not enacted legislation or otherwise mandated
provision of accessibility for the disabled, who also face social
discrimination. The Government maintains a hospital and schools
that provide high-quality, free services to the mentally and physically
Shi'a Muslims experience discrimination in employment in sensitive
areas, such as security and education.
The Government discriminates against some citizens of non-Qatari
origin. In the private sector, many citizens of Iranian origin
occupy some of the highest positions. However, they are rarely
found in senior decisionmaking positions in government.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The right of association is strictly limited, and all workers,
including foreigners, are prohibited from forming labor unions.
Despite this restriction, almost all workers have the right to
strike after their case has been presented to the Labor Conciliation
Board and ruled upon. Employers may close a place of work or dismiss
employees once the Conciliation Board has heard the case. The
right to strike does not exist for government employees, domestic
workers, or members of the employer's family. No worker in a public
utility or health or security service may strike if such a strike
would harm the public or lead to property damage. Strikes are
The Labor Law provides for the establishment of joint consultative
committees composed of representatives of the employer and workers.
The committees do not discuss wages but may consider issues such
as organization and productivity, conditions of employment, training
of workers, and safety measures and their implementation.
Since 1995, Qatar has been suspended from the U.S. Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance programs because of the
Government's lack of compliance with internationally recognized
worker rights standards.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers are prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining.
In general, wages are set unilaterally by employers without government
involvement. Local courts handle disputes between workers and
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Three-quarters of
the work force are expatriate workers, who are dependent on a
single employer for residency rights. This leaves them vulnerable
to abuse. For instance, employers must give consent before exit
permits are issued to any foreigner seeking to leave the country.
Some employers temporarily withhold this consent to force foreign
employees to work for longer periods than they wish. The Government
prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may be employed with the
approval of their parents or guardians and some children may work
in small, family-owned businesses. However, child labor is rare.
Education is compulsory through the age of 15. Very young children,
usually of African or South Asian background, have been employed
as riders in camel racing. Little information is available on
wages and working conditions for these children. The Government
prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this
prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
Minors may not work more than 6 hours a day or more than 36 hours
a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Labor with the
names and occupations of their minor employees. The Ministry may
prohibit the employment of minors in jobs that are judged dangerous
to the health, safety, or morals of minors. Employers must also
obtain permission from the Ministry of Education to hire a minor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no minimum wage, although a 1962 law gives the Amir authority
to set one. The 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period is
prescribed by law, although most government offices follow a schedule
of 36 hours a week. Employees who work more than 48 hours a week,
or 36 hours a week during the Muslim month of Ramadan, are entitled
to overtime. This law is adhered to in government offices and
major private sector companies. It is not observed with respect
to domestic and personal employees. Domestic servants frequently
work 7 days a week, more than 12 hours a day, with few or no holidays,
and have no effective way to redress grievances against their
The Government has enacted regulations concerning worker safety
and health, but enforcement, which is the responsibility of the
Ministry of Energy and Industry, is lax. The Department of Public
Safety oversees safety training and conditions, and the state-run
petroleum company has its own set of safety standards and procedures.
The Labor Law of 1964, as amended in 1984, lists partial and permanent
disabilities for which compensation may be awarded, some connected
with handling chemicals and petroleum products or construction
injuries. The law does not specifically set rates of payment and
Foreign workers must be sponsored by a citizen or a legally recognized
organization to obtain an entry visa and must have their sponsor's
permission to depart the country. Any worker may seek legal relief
from onerous work conditions, but domestic workers generally accept
their situations in order to avoid repatriation. The Government
also penalizes Qatari employers who violate residence and sponsorship
laws. Some foreign domestics have been mistreated by their employers
(see Section 5).
Source: U.S. State Department.