By Salman Siddiqui
Amnesty International has recognised that Qatar has taken “some steps” to address human rights issues of construction workers in the state and appreciated authorities for remaining “accessible” to them.
Addressing a press conference in Doha yesterday, Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said that relative to other Gulf countries, Qatar was “more open” about human rights issues.
“Qatar on human rights is much more open, more accessible. We met with several government officials and they were very open…. In all of our meetings, one of the refreshing things was…, across the board, they are very willing to acknowledge that there is a problem and they are very strongly oriented towards finding a solution to the arising challenges,” he said.
He appreciated the fact that Qatar had a “National Human Rights machinery of some sorts” and welcomed an announcement by the government to recruit more labour inspectors.
He described charters on labour standards brought forward by Qatar Foundation and Qatar 2022 World Cup Committee as “good first steps”.
“We must recognise the positive things, the State of Qatar is open to human rights, and can be accessed , even though we are in a difficult area and Qatar’s officials were open about our observations, and have taken some steps about the rights of migrants and human rights.”
Shetty noted that Qatar hosted more than 1mn migrant workers, and this in itself was “a significant contribution from the state to the countries of origin (labour-exporting countries) and workers themselves being able to sustain their families and their relatives.”
He, however, said that while the country had travelled some distance, a lot more needed to be done to improve human rights.
“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive,” Shetty said.
“Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers.”
He pointed out that migrant construction workers often worked for small and medium sized enterprises sub-contracted to major companies which, in some cases, failed to ensure they were not exploited.
A 169-page report, titled “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup” was released to the media at the press conference.
Based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, the report sheds light on current practices within the construction industry.
Discriminatory attitudes towards migrant workers in Qatar, many of whom come from South or Southeast Asia, are common, according to it. Amnesty International expert on migration in the Gulf, James Lynch, said a manager of one construction firm referred to their workers as “Haywaan or Arabic for animals” to them.
The report identifies cases that constitute forced labour. Some workers interviewed by Amnesty International were living in fear of losing everything, threatened with fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not show up to work even though they were not being paid.
The organisation has documented cases where workers were effectively blackmailed by their employers in order to get out of the country. Researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers in front of officials falsely confirming that they had received their wages, in order to get their passports back to leave Qatar.
The watchdog called on the government to seize the opportunity to lead the way regionally on protection of migrant workers’ rights.
“The world’s spotlight will continue to shine on Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup offering the government a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region,” said Shetty. Page 11
Pledge to promote
An official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said that Qatar attached great importance to promoting and protecting human rights within the state “by acting to consolidate them in its legislations and laws as well as establishing appropriate institutions for their protection and promotion. The source reiterated that Qatar was doing its utmost in this respect.
Concerning Amnesty International’s report relating to the building sector in Qatar, the source stated to Qatar News Agency that Qatar had commissioned DLA Piper, a leading international law firm, to undertake an independent review on this matter.
The source said “the competent authorities in Qatar had requested DLA Piper to add Amnesty International’s report to the topics and evidence that are being considered by the firm within the framework of its currently independent review about the status of foreign workers in the State of Qatar”.