UN Urges Qatar to Tackle Migrant Rights, Women’s Rights

May 7, 2014 – Qatar should abolish its kafala system which ties a migrant worker to their employer and the Gulf country must take action to end discrimination against women.

Those were the main recommendations of UN bodies to the energy-rich emirate during its universal periodic review in Geneva on Wednesday.

In its submission, the UN Committee Against Torture said it “was deeply concerned about reports of widespread torture or ill-treatment and abuse of migrant workers, in particular under the sponsorship system, and about constraints faced by such workers on lodging complaints against their employers.”

Under the kalifa, or sponsorship, system a migrant worker essentially becomes the property of his or her employer. The sponsor monitors and controls all aspects of the worker’s life and it’s common practice for sponsors to confiscate the worker’s passport.

Of Qatar’s population of about 1.8 million, only 280,000 of these are citizens as the vast majority are foreign workers, mostly from South Asia.

The Committee to End Racial Discrimination called on Qatar to revise its law on nationality which bans Qatari women from passing on citizenship to their children if their husband is foreign.

The Gulf country was also urged to allow for equal representation in parliament as currently only men are authorized to be nominated to the Shura council, the legislative branch.

UNESCO raised concerns about Qatar’s blasphemy law which imposes seven-year prison sentences for “insulting the Supreme Being in letter and spirit,
in writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way” while human rights commissioner Navi Pillay called for the immediate release of a poet who was sentenced to 15 years for allegedly encouraging the overthrow of the ruling system in Qatar and insulting the “nation’s symbols.”

Qatar was also urged to abolish the death penalty. The country’s representative at the review, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, noted that no executions had taken place since 2003.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz