Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999
Qatar, an Arab state on the Persian Gulf, is a monarchy
with no constitution or political parties. Qatar 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. In March citizens were
permitted to participate in the election of a national body, the Central
Municipal Council, for the first time. 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 (Mukhabarat).
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. Rapid development in 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 has
embarked upon a program of " Qatarization, " which is aimed at
reducing the number of foreign workers. Many government jobs are offered only
to citizens and private sector businesses are encouraged to recruit citizens
The Government restricts citizens' rights; however, there
was substantial progress in a few areas. Citizens do not have the right to
change their government; however, the Government's program of gradual
democratic initiatives provided citizens with the opportunity to elect
officials to the Central Municipal Council. Both male and female citizens were
permitted to vote and to run for a seat on the Council. In addition a
constitutional committee was convened in July to draft a permanent
constitution that would provide for parliamentary elections. Arbitrary
detention in security cases, and restrictions on the freedoms of speech,
press, assembly, association, religion, and on workers' rights, continued to
be problems. However, the Government continued to take some steps to ease
restrictions on the practice of non-Muslim religions. Despite female suffrage,
in practice women's rights are restricted by social customs. Noncitizen
workers, who make up a majority of the residents of the country, face
discrimination in the workplace.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 -- Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial
There were no reports of politically motivated
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
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
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 law prohibits arbitrary arrest; however, the police
have the discretion to arrest persons based on a low level of suspicion, and
arbitrary detention in security cases remains a problem. The authorities
generally charge suspects within 48 hours. Suspects generally are presented to
the Attorney General within 24 hours of arrest. The Attorney General decides
whether to hold the suspect up to a maximum of 4 days, after which time the
suspect is presented before the judge, who may order the suspect released or
remanded to custody to await trial. The accused is entitled to legal
representation throughout this process. Suspects who are detained in security
cases generally are afforded access to counsel; however, they may be detained
indefinitely while under investigation. There were no known recent cases of
In June 1998, the Amir ordered the arrest of Abdulrahman
Al-Nuaimi, a Ministry of Education official who distributed a letter to the
press critical the Amir's decision to allow women to vote and run for office
in the Municipal Council elections. Contrary to reports that he was released
in 1998, Al-Nuaimi remains in custody.
The public trial of persons arrested for involvement in the
February 1996 coup attempt continued. Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Hamad Al-Thani,
who was named as the prime suspect in the coup bid, was arrested under
mysterious circumstances on or about July 23. He remains in custody following
his appearance before the trial judge to answer charges of plotting to
destabilize the regime and revealing military secrets to foreign powers.
Prosecutors have called for the death penalty for all those accused, including
Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Hammad. A verdict was expected in early December;
however, the arrest of Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Hamad delayed proceedings into
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; however, 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 three
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 two types of courts: The civil courts, which have
jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters, and the Shari'a Court, which has
jurisdiction in family and criminal cases. There are no permanent state
security courts; however, although there have been no cases before these
courts since the Amir assumed power, they have not been abolished formally by
law and remain an option. Defendants tried by all courts have the right to
appeal. The original case and the appeal in Shari'a Court are no longer heard
by the same judge, and procedural loopholes that permitted this practice in
the past are to be closed as part of a pending judicial reform package.
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; however, they may file suit in
the civil courts. 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 1 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. Suspects are entitled to bail, except in some
instances, such as in cases of violent crime. Bail may be provided by citizens
or noncitizens. Foreigners who are 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
Traditional attitudes of respect for the sanctity of the
home and the privacy of women provide a great deal of protection against
arbitrary intrusion 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. Search warrants are issued 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 1996 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. Some
journalists reportedly were subjected to pressure by the Government during the
year after they published articles critical of it. No instance of explicit
criticism of any citizen, whether of their public or private affairs, 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 July radio and television call-in programs addressed the
sensitive subject of cash entitlements paid to members of the ruling Al-Thani
family. Citizens expressed disagreement with the system in public forums, with
no evidence of subsequent reprisals. However, one person did write a letter of
retraction to a local newspaper a few days after her comments.
A Ministry of Education official who wrote a letter
critical of the Amir's decision to allow women to vote and run for office in
the Municipal Council elections remains in custody (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 service is censored for pornographic content through a
proxy server, which blocks those web sites containing certain key words and
phrases. A user who believes that a site is censored mistakenly may submit the
web address to the Internet service provider to have the site reviewed for
suitability. The Government is responsive to these submissions.
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
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 the conservative Hanbali school of
the Sunni branch of Islam, as interpreted by Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahab, an
18th century religious reformer who emphasized the strict observance of
religious duties. The Government officially prohibits public worship by
non-Muslims; however, it tolerates and protects private services conducted in
private with prior notification to the authorities. The Government has
indicated, through foreign diplomats and in meetings with Christian leaders,
its long-range intention to identify and lease parcels of land to the
recognized Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox communities upon which they would
be permitted to erect churches, albeit without bells or the external display
of crosses. In the meantime, the Government has indicated its support for the
lease of existing villas for use in worship services by such groups, provided
that they obtain the Qatari landlord's approval. The community of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) now meets in a villa leased for
the express purpose of worship. 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, and Repatriation
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 who are 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 are able to 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. The political institutions blend the
characteristics of a traditional Bedouin tribal state and a modern
bureaucracy. There are no political parties or organized opposition groups.
However, in March citizens had the opportunity to choose officials to the
Central Municipal Council in free and fair elections.
The Amir exercises most executive and legislative powers,
including appointment of cabinet members. On March 8, citizens elected a
29-member Central Municipal Council. For the first time, men and women age 18
and older were permitted both to vote and to run as candidates. The Council is
a nonpartisan body that addresses issues such as street repair, green space,
trash collection, and public works projects. Its role is to advise the
Minister of Municipalities and Agriculture. The Council cannot change policy
on its own.
Under the amended Provisional Constitution, the Amir must
be chosen from and by the adult males of the Al-Thani family.
In November 1998, the Amir announced his intention to form
a constitutional committee to draft a permanent constitution that would
provide for democratic parliamentary elections. The constitutional committee
was inaugurated on July 13 and includes a number of government officials,
academics, and prominent business leaders. The Amir reiterated in his remarks
to the committee members that he expects their efforts to lead to the
establishment of an elected parliamentary body.
Women have the right to vote and some ran as candidates for
the Central Municipal Council, but none were elected.
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 trial sessions 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. Women
Violence against women and spousal abuse occur but are not
believed to be widespread. Some foreign domestic servants, especially those
from South Asia and the Philippines, have been mistreated by employers.
According to Shari'a (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 demonstrated
an increased willingness to arrest and punish offenders, whether citizens or
foreigners. Offenders who are citizens usually receive lighter punishments
than do foreigners. Abused domestic workers usually do not press charges for
fear of losing their jobs.
The legal system allows leniency for a man found guilty of
committing a " crime of honor, " a euphemism that refers to a
violent assault against a female by a male relative for alleged sexual
misconduct; however, such honor killings are rare. In September a former
minister, Ali Saeed Al-Khayareen, killed his two half-sisters for their
alleged sexual misconduct. Al-Khayareen was being held at the Al-Rayyan
detention center, but reportedly was released late in the year.
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 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 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 his or her child out of the country without permission of the
citizen parent. 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 may attend court proceedings but generally are represented by a male
relative; however, women may represent themselves.
Women largely are relegated to the roles of mother and
homemaker, but some women are now finding jobs in education, medicine, and the
news media. Women appear to receive equal pay for equal work; however, they
often do not receive equal allowances. These allowances generally cover
transportation and housing costs. 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 legally are 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 citizenship
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 Qatari 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.
Very young children, usually of African or South Asian
background, have been used as jockeys in camel races. Little information is
available on wages and working conditions for these children (see Sections
6.c. and 6.d.).
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 disabled.
Shi'a Muslims fill many positions in the bureaucracy and
are prominent in business. However, they experience discrimination in
employment in some sensitive areas, such as security.
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 rarely are 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 rare.
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
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 foreign 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 foreign employee 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 generally enforces this prohibition effectively; however, some very young
children work as jockeys in camel races (see Sections 5 and 6.d.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for
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, are used as jockeys in camel races (see Sections 5 and
6.c.) and 6.f.). Little information is available on wages and working
conditions for these children. The Government prohibits forced and bonded
labor by children and generally enforces this prohibition effectively (see
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 also must 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 36-hours-per-week
work schedule. Employees who work more than 48 hours per week, or 36 hours per
week during the Muslim month of Ramadan, are entitled to overtime pay. 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 per week, more than 12 hours per 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 compensation.
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).
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no
confirmed reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country
during the year.
Source: U.S. State Department.