Human Rights Under Siege

The State of Qatar is a committed partner in the global fight for human rights advancement. Qatar invests billions of dollars empowering women, educating youth, feeding and housing the poor, and protecting journalistic expression. In doing so, Qatar hopes to propel the cause of human rights both in the region and around the world, for the betterment of society and humankind at large.

Unfortunately, the vital fight for human rights has never been closer to home for the Qatari people. The illegal blockade imposed by four neighboring countries on Qatar represents one of the most significant human rights catastrophes in the region in decades.

This blockade was accompanied by various procedures including the closing of land, air and sea borders, the issuance of travel bans on citizens and residents with near-immediate effect. These violations include various civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

They constitute a violation of principles and rules of international law, international human rights laws, and international humanitarian law.

The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed serious concern for the deteriorating human rights situation in Qatar due to the blockade: 

“I am alarmed about the possible impact on many people’s human rights in the wake of the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar.

I am also extremely troubled to hear that the UAE and Bahrain are threatening to jail and fine people who express sympathy for Qatar or opposition to their own governments’ actions, as this would appear to be a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression or opinion.

I urge all the States involved to solve this dispute as quickly as possible through dialogue, to refrain from any actions that could affect the well-being, health, employment and integrity of their inhabitants, and to respect their obligations under international human rights law.” – UNHCHR Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein 

Human rights watchdog groups like Amnesty International slammed the blockade for its violations of human dignity:

“The situation that people across the Gulf have been placed in shows utter contempt for human dignity. This arbitrary deadline has caused widespread uncertainty and dread amongst thousands of people who fear they will be separated from their loved ones.” – James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme

The National Human Rights Committee has identified and recorded various human rights violations and complaints as a result of the unilateral severance of diplomatic relations by the KSA, the UAE and Bahrain with the State of Qatar.

Violation of the right to freedom of movement; this included citizens and residents of the State of Qatar, KSA, UAE and Bahrain. Moreover, citizens and residents of these three countries who visit Qatar would be penalized.  The preliminary statistics show that there are 11,387 citizens of these countries residing in the State of Qatar. Their freedom of movement has been effected as well. In addition, they could be subject to other violations relating to the right to education and the right to work. If they do not return to their countries as instructed, they would face punitive and arbitrary measures.

Violation of the right to education; there have been many cases relating to Qatari citizens studying in these countries. They have been informed to immediately leave these countries, as they would not be permitted to complete their final semester exams. Similarly, citizens of these three countries have also been instructed to return to their countries immediately (as mentioned in above).

Violation of the right to work; there is a large number of citizens from some of these countries who reside and work in Qatar. The relevant authorities in these countries instructed these citizens to leave Qatar immediately. These authorities know that this would eventually cause their employment to be terminated.

Forced deportation; these countries have given Qatari citizens and residents 14 days to leave. However, in many cases these deportations are taking immediate effect. 

Violation of the right to have food and medicine – which could be considered as collective punishment: The sudden and immediate closing of borders caused the immediate interruption of imports of food items and medicine.

Violation of the right to family unification; this will effect a large number of citizens of Qatar and these three countries alike due to the centuries-long tribal, family and marriage relations among them.

Violation of the right to private ownership and economic activity: thousands of GCC citizens own property and economic and trade interests in different GCC countries. These procedures with deprive such people of their rights to manage their properties and economic activities.

Violations of the right to freedom to practice a religion: Mecca and Medina, two holy cities for all Muslims, are located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The two cities are a constant destination for Muslims to perform Umrah. The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia has impeded the rights of nearly 1.5 million Muslims residing in Qatar to performing religious rituals. Saudi Arabia did not make exceptions for those who might wish to perform such rituals.

Violation of the right to ownership: The sudden siege laws imposed by the three countries have resulted in huge losses of assets and property to tens of thousands of people, which indicate that those who have taken this decision have total disrespect basic rights. Money and property were confiscated because their owners could not travel, as all persons prohibited from traveling cannot be able to use their property or dispose of it.

Violation of the right to Health – Especially for persons with Disabilities. Hundreds of patients from the three sanctioning countries were receiving medical treatment in hospitals in the State of Qatar. Some Qataris were also receiving treatment in hospitals in these countries. All of them have been affected, as they were asked leaver without any exception or exclusion of the sick, injured, pregnant women, children or those with disability. It shows beyond doubt how the three countries blatantly disregard the rights of their sick citizens, as well as indifference towards their most basic human rights. The most fundamental aspect of the right to health is non-discrimination.

Violations to the right of freedom of opinion and expression. There have been continued demands to closedown Al-Jazeera News Network or influence its reporting and coverage. This is a direct interference with the freedom of opinion and expression and the right of individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas to others – by any means and without regard to the borders as mentioned in several international human rights instruments.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression condemned demands that Al Jazeera and other networks be shut down:

“This demand represents a serious threat to media freedom if states, under the pretext of a diplomatic crisis, take measures to force the dismantling of Al Jazeera,” Kaye said in a statement. I call on the international community to urge these governments not to pursue this demand against Qatar, to resist taking steps to censor media in their own territory and regionally, and to encourage support for independent media in the Middle East.” – David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

The UAE and Bahraini authorities have issued decrees penalizing citizens and residents alike who show sympathy or express opinions contrary to the official position of these countries towards the State of Qatar. In the UAE, these penalties are imprisonment (3 to 15) years and a fine up to 500 thousand UAE Dirhams. In Bahrain, the penalties include imprisonment up to 5 years and a fine.

Incitement of violence and hate speech: The NHRC has recorded hundreds of cases of hate speech, some of which went as far as inciting the carrying out of bomb blasts in the State of Qatar. In some of the TV series, children have been indoctrinated and incited against Qatar. It is clear that all this amount of incitement, hate speech and violence will generate tendency towards extremist reactions from the various segments of society, intellectuals and the illiterate alike.

The State of Qatar is committed to relieving the suffering of all people effected by the illegal blockade imposed on not only Qatar, but on everyone that believes in human rights. Qatar is working in together with its partners around the world, the United Nations, and with the wider international community to bring an end to the human rights abuses underway in the region because of this blockade.

Awareness of human rights abuses is the first step in ending them, so please share this page with your network of concerned friends, family, and colleagues and help to stop human rights violations!

Further reading:

National Human Rights Committee of Qatar

NHRC Second Report Regarding the Human Rights Violations as a Result of the Blockade on the State of Qatar

Amnesty International Statement on Qatar Crisis Human Rights Violations

United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Statement on Qatar Diplomatic Crisis

International Federation of Journalists Statement on Ending Political Bullying of Journalists in Blockade

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