Qatar to Become Party to Two UN Human Rights Conventions
On May 21, 2018, Qatar acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which will both come into force for the State in August. [HRW: Treaties] Qatar’s accession to these conventions included both formal reservations on articles to which Qatar will not consider itself bound by as well as statements by Qatar indicating how the government will interpret certain provisions, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law, the national constitution, and other national laws. Civil society has expressed concern at these reservations and statements, particularly as they relate to limitations on women’s rights and migrant workers’ rights. [HRW: Treaties] Including these most recent accessions, Qatar is now a party to nine United Nations conventions, obliging the State to guarantee the rights to equal protection and non-discrimination, among other rights. See OHCHR, Ratification Status for Qatar.
Qatar’s Accession to the Conventions
Qatar’s accession to both the ICCPR and the ICESCR will take effect three months after the date of accession on August 21, 2018, pursuant to articles 49 and 27 of those conventions, respectively. The ICCPR protects several fundamental rights, including the rights to life; to liberty and security; to privacy; to freedom of religion; to freedom of expression; to freedom of association; to the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The ICESCR also protects several fundamental rights, including the right to work, the right to join trade unions, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, and the right to education, among others.
Qatar’s accession included significant reservations to each of the conventions. Qatar indicated that it did not consider itself bound to Article 3 of the ICCPR, which requires that States parties “undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant,” because Qatar considered this provision to be incompatible with the national constitution. See UNTC, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It made a reservation with respect to Article 23(4), stating that it does not consider itself bound to the article, which guarantees “equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution,” because that principle does not conform to Islamic Sharia Law. See id.
In addition to the formal reservations on specific articles of the ICCPR, Qatar also made statements indicating how it would interpret certain provisions. For example, several articles will be interpreted in accordance with Islamic Sharia Law, including the term “punishment” in Article 7 on the prohibition of torture, cruel, or degrading punishment; Article 18(2) on freedom from coercion to adopt religion or belief; and Article 23(2) on the right of men and women of “marriageable age” to get married and establish a family. See id. Further, Qatar stated that provisions on trade unions must comply with existing labor laws and other Qatari national legislation and will implement that provision accordingly. See id. Finally, the provision guaranteeing freedom to practice one’s religion will be protected insofar as it does not violate “public order and public morals, the protection of public safety and public health, or the rights and basic freedoms of others.” See id.
As to the ICESCR, Qatar acceded with reservation to Article 3 of the convention, to which the State does not consider itself bound by because of the incompatibility with inheritance and birth principles of Islamic Sharia Law. See UNTC, International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Article 3 of the ICESCR guarantees equal protection to both men and women of the rights contained within the ICESCR. Qatar also made a statement indicating that it will interpret “trade unions,” as used in Article 8, in accordance with the domestic labor law and national legislation. See id.
Qatar will now be required to submit regular reports on its implementation of both conventions to their oversight bodies. Under Article 40 of the ICCPR, its first report on compliance with the ICCPR is due to the Human Rights Committee, an independent body of experts that is tasked with monitoring compliance with the ICCPR, one year after the treaty enters into force on August 21, 2018. Qatar will then have to submit reports periodically thereafter at the Human Rights Committee’s request, which, in practice, typically means every four years. See IJRC, Human Rights Committee. The Human Rights Committee issues concluding observations on the States parties’ reports and will include its concerns or recommendations in those observations.
Qatar is required to submit an initial report on its implementation of the ICESCR to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), an independent body of experts that is tasked with monitoring implementation of the ICESCR, within two years after accession. Following the initial report, Qatar will be required to submit a report every five years after that. The CESCR issues concluding observations on States parties’ reports, and includes in its reports its concerns and recommendations. See CESCR, Monitoring the economic, social and cultural rights.
Background on Human Rights in Qatar
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, resulting in the expulsion of Qatari citizens from those countries, which ultimately caused family separation, loss of employment, and loss of education, among other human rights violations. [HRW: Isolation] The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the measures taken by the Gulf countries against Qatar “overly broad in scope and implementation” and expressed concern at their “potential to seriously disrupt the lives of women, children and men” solely because of their Qatari nationality. [OHCHR Press Release] Qatar’s isolation stemmed from the countries’ view of Qatar as sponsoring terrorism in the region. [The Guardian]
Although Qatar’s accession to the ICCPR and ICESCR are positive advancements to promote and protect human rights within the country, the reservations and statements on interpretation will disproportionately affect women and migrant workers, who make up at least 90 percent of the working population. [HRW: Treaties] Civil society has reported that the reservations made on the provisions that guarantee equality among men and women will allow Qatar to continue its practice of requiring approval by a male guardian of a woman for marriage, but not of men; requiring court approval for divorce for women only, which may only be approved under certain circumstances; providing stronger custody rights for the father following divorce; and distributing inheritance unequally between male and female siblings, in favor of male siblings. [HRW: Treaties] Further, Qatar’s interpretation of trade unions in accordance with domestic law will, in effect, according to civil society, prevent migrant workers from associating and forming or joining trade unions. [HRW: Treaties]
Qatar’s Existing Human Rights Obligations
Qatar is a party to the Convention Against Torture; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict; the Optional Protocol on the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Qatar has not accepted the individual complaint procedure of any of the treaty bodies to which it is a State party, which would allow individuals to file a communication alleging that Qatar is not fulfilling its obligations under the convention. See OHCHR, Ratification Status for Qatar. Qatar has accepted the inquiry procedure under Article 20 of the Convention Against Torture, through which the Committee against Torture may investigate, at its own initiative, allegations of systemic torture. See id. Under the inquiry procedure, the State in question agrees to cooperate with the Committee on, and may submit observations in relation to, the investigation of the allegations.
Qatar acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2009, with several reservations. The CEDAW guarantees equality of all fundamental rights and freedoms between women and men, including equal marriage and family rights. Qatar’s accession included several reservations to rights that were deemed inconsistent with Islamic Sharia Law, including subparts of Article 15 on equality of men and women before the law and subparts of Article 16 on elimination of discrimination within the realm of marriage and family relations. See UNTC, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
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