In Dialogue with Qatar, Experts of Human Rights Committee Commend Legislative Revision Efforts and Ask about Stance on Capital

OHCHR

The Committee on Human Rights today concluded its review of the initial periodic report of Qatar on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Experts commending legislative revision efforts and asking about the State’s stance on the death penalty and capital punishment.

A Committee Expert commended the State party for establishing a committee to review and revise domestic legislation in light of international standards, and for its efforts in harmonizing laws with the Covenant. Did the State party plan to restrict the crimes punishable by the death penalty to “serious crimes” in the sense of article 6.2 of the Covenant? Did the State plan to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty? How many death sentences had been carried out between 2005 and 2019?

Ahmad Hassen Al-Hammadi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, in opening remarks said that in the period since its accession to the Covenant in 2018, Qatar had witnessed wide-ranging developments at the legislative, institutional, policy and strategy levels aimed at strengthening human rights protections in the State. Qatar had reformed legislation and institutions protecting migrant workers. It had abolished the sponsorship system, improved working conditions and living conditions for all workers, and created a safe and balanced working environment in accordance with international labour standards.

In the ensuing discussion, the delegation explained that the State had attempted to reform the law on nationality to conform to international standards. Qatari women married to foreigners and their children received the same rights and privileges as Qatari citizens. State legislation was amended periodically to ensure that out-of-date laws were reformed. Capital punishment only applied to a small number of extremely serious crimes. Many guarantees of the Covenant needed to be respected when it came to handing down such a sentence, and it could only be handed down when judges were unanimous. Pregnant women could not be given the death penalty, nor could mothers with children under two years of age. The Emir also had the ability to repeal death sentences. Qatar had never used flogging or stoning sentences, and had repealed a law permitting stoning. Only for a small number of crimes could capital punishment be given, and homosexuality was not one of them.

The delegation of Qatar was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights Department, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Ministry of Health, the Supreme Judiciary Council, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

In concluding remarks, Ahmad Hassen Al-Hammadi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, expressed the delegation’s gratitude for the Committee’s professional and objective review. The State, he said, would take on board the Committee’s comments and recommendations, and work to implement them. To achieve universal human rights, he said, Qatar was striving to implement human rights reform and set a positive example.

Photini Pazartzis, Chair of the Committee, acknowledged the significance of Qatar’s initial report, and thanked the State party for its frank responses to the many questions posed by Committee Experts. She expressed hope that Qatar would continue to work with the Committee. In closing, she called on the State party to consider a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty, and to sign the Optional Protocol of the Covenant.

The Human Rights Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, March 2 at 3 p.m. to consider the fifth report of Israel ( CCPR/C/ISR/5 ).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Qatar (CCPR/C/QAT/1).

Presentation of the Report

AHMAD HASSEN AL-HAMMADI, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, expressed his happiness in meeting with the Committee to review the initial report of Qatar. He noted that the report was prepared in challenging circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thanked the National Human Rights Commission and the Qatar Foundation for Social Action for their shadow reports. In the period since its accession to the Covenant in 2018, Qatar had witnessed wide-ranging developments at the legislative, institutional, policy and strategy levels aimed at strengthening human rights protections in the State. Qatar had reformed legislation and institutions protecting migrant workers. It had abolished the sponsorship system, improved working conditions and living conditions for all workers, and created a safe and balanced working environment in accordance with international labour standards.

Qatar’s National Action Plan for Human Rights had been completed and would be launched soon. The National Commission against Human Trafficking had also been amended, giving law enforcement agencies the power to combat human trafficking. Further, an anti human-trafficking department had been allocated to the Ministry of the Interior. To promote and protect women’s rights, the State was providing free legal assistance, psychological rehabilitation, shelter for female victims of violence, and social assistance and salaries for divorced women and widows. The National Committee on Women, Children, the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities had also been established. Laws had also been passed in 2018 granting permanent residence, regulating political asylum, abolishing exit permits for migrant workers, regulating ownership and use of property by foreigners, and establishing a support and insurance fund for migrant workers.

From October 2018 to April 2019, a national campaign on the right to education had been organized as part of UNESCO’s campaign to promote and protect the right to education. The first elections to Qatar’s Shura Council were held on October 2, 2021, with a turnout of 63.5 per cent. Further, a number of new Ministries had been established, including an independent Ministry for Social Development and the Family, which would support families and raise community awareness of the importance of family protection and cohesion. A Ministry of Labour had also been established, and its mandate was to support workers and protect their rights. A new Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has also been established to introduce measures aiming to protect the environment and reduce emissions causing climate change.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar had provided all medical care services to all individuals living on its territory without discrimination, and as of the end of January 2022, Qatar had delivered nearly 6.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with 87.4% of the population having received two doses. Electronic and communication devices had been distributed to students to facilitate distance learning. Further, Qatar had developed infrastructure and electronic systems that allowed for remote court litigation. Through its National Vision for Development 2030 and its comprehensive sectoral strategies, Qatar had pursued the Sustainable Development Goals, and had recorded the highest level of women’s participation in the region’s workforce. Mr Al-Hammadi said that the Committee session was a valuable opportunity to properly assess and analyse Qatar’s situation to continuously improve its internal human rights practices.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert thanked the delegation for its cooperation with the work of the Committee, and the Head of Delegation for introducing Qatar’s efforts in upholding human rights. The Expert began by asking whether the Covenant was directly applicable in the domestic legal order of the State party, or whether it was applied indirectly through a law which was adopted for dealing with the same issue?

The Expert commended the State party for establishing a committee to review and revise domestic legislation in light of international standards, and for its efforts in harmonizing laws with the Covenant. However, it was not clear whether the Covenant was automatically ranked higher than ordinary laws in the domestic legal order. Would a domestic law become null and void if it conflicted with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant? How would the State party respond if domestic law based on Islamic Sharia was found to be in conflict with certain provisions of the Covenant? Could an individual invoke the provisions of the Covenant before a court?

The Expert congratulated the State party on its National Human Rights Committee (National Human Rights Committee) being accredited “A” status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions since 2010, and on being re-accredited in October 2021. However, the Expert noted that the National Human Rights Committee was not sufficiently independent of the government, particularly because the nomination, appointment and dismissal of its members was subject to approval by the Emir, and because it had four representatives of Government Ministries. What measures had the State party taken to ensure the independence of the National Human Rights Committee? Were there measures in place to increase the diversity of members and staff of the National Human Rights Committee in the context of gender, ethnicity or minority status?

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